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


Well-Known Member
[font='Open Sans', Arial, sans-serif]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.[/font]

[font='Open Sans', Arial, sans-serif]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 destin[/font]
[font='Open Sans', Arial, sans-serif]y.[/font]

[font='Open Sans', Arial, sans-serif]Sequel to There's No Place Like Home[/font]

Table of Contents

In the End
New Moon: Whinnychester
New Moon: Dead Moon
New Moon: Noire
Stasis: The North
Stasis: Beyond
Stasis: Iceheart [2]
Upon the Wings of Freedom: Dodge Junction
Upon the Wings of Freedom: The Badlands
Upon the Wings of Freedom: Red Wings [2]


Well-Known Member
'In The End'

Five Years After The Magic Duel

The stones rumbled slightly under her hooves, even the thousand-year-old masonry unable to dispel the tremors of a wild lightning strike nearby. In foalhood, the vicious thunderstorms that occasionally tore through the countryside terrified her, despite understanding that the pegasi weather corps controlled the clouds, preventing them from causing any true damage. As a fully grown mare, she had become inured to the sound of thunder even as she had taken refuge in the untamed Everfree, where the storms could roll over her territory, unabated for days.

She wondered sometimes at her choice for habitat. Common parlance would declare her a squatter, occupying an abandoned wreck only a relative stone’s throw away from the site of her greatest humiliation. The azure-coloured mare thought otherwise, wishing to honour the two pony sisters who ruled the realm, even as she aspired to the same lofty heights they were born into.

Another bolt of lightning struck, this one far closer. As if challenging her right to be here, a window pane at the far end of the room shattered, surviving for a thousand years before falling prey to nature’s wrath. She didn’t blink.

The pink of her eyes built up as she cast her magic, an effect of her pilgrimage through the lands of her home and beyond, as the crystalline fragments of the window disappeared. An incalculable fragment of a second later, the glass reappeared in the window frame, whole and improved, her little defiance for the night against the physical realm.

Trixie Lulamoon let out a brief sigh. The feeling of fatigue had become a rare feeling for her, until she set up camp in the Everfree. Here, magic ran free and unordered, as unpredictable as the bonds between ponies. That this castle in the heart of chaos also held the Tree of Harmony never escaped her sense of irony. Trixie knew what she had been getting into, relearning her craft from scratch in a place where magic itself was different. That only a single wing of the grand castle had been repaired within the last month from the last great battle it had seen was testament to that.

“Trixie,” A voice called down from the opposite end of the large chamber she had staked out as their training room, “What did you want for dinner tonight?”

Trixie turned to eye the speaker, a Pegasus who defined the colour red, from his hair to his mane to his Cutie Mark, a pair of red wings, even to the unusual red pigmentation of his irises, leaving half of his Cutie Mark, his pupils and the whites of his eyes as the only non-red part of him. Very few ponies could ever hope to perceive the incredibly tiny difference between his right and left wing, but Trixie was one of the few who could. After all, she was the pony who had healed his broken form. “If there are any of the white and red water-lilies left, I will have them in a soup,” Trixie said.

“Very well,” The Pegasus said, “I will call you again when food is ready.” Giving her a wink, he achieved lift-off from a still position, flapping backwards through the grand door and out to where Trixie knew the makeshift kitchen to be.

The former stage magician turned to look back outside, sight piercing the relentless torrent of rain, ears listening past its patter, to the edge of the Everfree Forest, where a single crystalline tower could be seen rising above the surrounding trees. Twice before had she come to blow with the alicorn who lived in that palace. Trixie hardly believed in the Fates Three, even if recent events implied their existence, but it seemed as if the last half-decade had been building up to this.
“Three days,” Trixie whispered to herself. “Three days, and then this will all be over.”

Another flash of lightning, this one illuminating the town of Ponyville, so close and yet so far. Change was coming on the Living Wind.

It was a simple, single word, a name, but the weight it carried was insurmountable. The speaker shouted it with rage, hatred, sorrow, confusion, a contradicting cacophony of emotions toward its intended target. Even as an expert on the nuances of language, the mare who had yelled it wasn’t sure if it was a declaration, a question, or an ultimatum.
The unicorn who the word was hurled at finally turned, wearing purple robes and a single piece of jewelry, facing her accuser, “Oh, it’s you.”
Princess Twilight Sparkle choked on her voice, trying and failing to find words for a few seconds, before she managed to grind them out, “That’s it? That’s all you have to say after this madness, Trixie?”
It was a loaded term. In using it, Twilight referred partly to the ponies that had barred her on the way into the old Castle of the Pony Sisters, ones that had apparently been recruited by Trixie as allies. A mammoth specimen of the Earth pony subspecies, a stallion who dwarfed even Princess Celestia; a frozen-in-time vanquisher of the bitter spirits of the frozen North who even Sombra had hesitated to challenge; a defector of the Royal Guard with far too many esoteric abilities, seemingly capable of using magic of all three tribes; a Pegasus whose dreams of freedom made him one of the most dangerous ponies alive; and a cocksure unicorn who fancied himself the Living Wind. Between those five ponies of diverse talents and the creatures that had come to this bizarre sextet’s aid, they had managed to hector both Twilight’s friends, the retinue of the Royal Guard that had come along with her, and their other assorted helpers. By the time Twilight had reached the mastermind, she was the only one left pressing on.
Mostly, however, Twilight Sparkle referred specifically to the pony standing before her in the Castle’s throne room, wearing the Alicorn Amulet that had started and ended the mess that was their second encounter, and the mad scheme that Trixie Lulamoon had concocted.
“Madness?” Her opposite retorted with a hint of indignation, Trixie’s tone cool but slightly clenched, intent on keeping their sparring to the verbal arena for the moment. “I don’t see what the fuss is all about here. As far as I know, the only thing I’ve done wrong was to harbour somepony that went AWOL in a situation where she thought the state was persecuting her. Maybe Iceheart too, but she never joined the Equestrian army in the first place. In her case, I think a thousand years of service was more than enough.” 
Twilight gritted her teeth, wings held in tight to her belly, unwilling to put up with Trixie’s banter, and said, “I meant your blatant desire to become an alicorn, Trixie.”
Both knew what Twilight had meant in the first place, but only one had attempted to deflect. There was no more dodging, but now instead of leaping out of the way Trixie twisted around the words. “Ah, that. Again, I don’t see the issue. Cadence and you both ascended within this lifetime, so it should be perfectly doable for me. There’s certainly no law against trying, either. Hmm, maybe I committed a crime here?” Always the showoff, Trixie gestured to her surroundings, the inner sanctum of the Castle of the Pony Sisters, once a wrecked throne room, now in near-new condition. “I suppose this might be considered trespassing, but after a thousand years I think it’s safe to call it abandoned. It was never declared a historical monument, so really, all the fixing-up can’t be illegal either.”
Though she was often thought to be unfailingly patient by most of Ponyville, the few who knew her much closer knew Twilight Sparkle could easily be riled up with the right actions or words. In that instant, she almost shook with anger. Almost. “I mean that you aren’t destined to become an Alicorn, Trixie!” Even as she said those words, Twilight felt the rage leaking out of her, knowing it was a poor argument that wouldn’t have merited a passing grade if she had still been a student.
If it had been Twilight’s goal to elicit a moment of frothing rage from her once self-declared rival, she would have seen a resounding success.
“Don’t you dare use that word!” Trixie hissed, her eyes bulging as she started to move forward, only holding herself back after her first hoofstep. “DESTINY? Was it DESTINY then that made me brag about deeds I never accomplished, bringing an Ursa Minor down on me? Was it DESTINY that caused me to purchase the Amulet and take over Ponyville? Did DESTINY decide that I was to be a mere stepping block for you on your own way to becoming a Princess?” She allowed herself a few seconds to pant heavily, Twilight prevented from speaking by her own recoiling at the ferocity of Trixie’s words. Trixie visibly relaxed, bewildering Twilight with how much tension the younger mare had held at least since Twilight had confronted her. “If that was all so-called destiny, then buck destiny.” And so she had already, in a sense.
The beneficiary of so-called destiny struggled to hold her tongue, but failed. “No, but being a nasty pony was all your own doing,” said Twilight.
It didn’t trigger a second outburst like Twilight Sparkle had expected. Instead, Trixie just let out a small ‘hmph’, tossing up her head before coyly making a remark, “And I imagine if you had been just like the old me in personality, you still would have become a Princess?” She shook her head. “I’ve heard of how you would study for days and nights straight as Celestia’s student. You achieved it on your own merits, with a bit of luck, not because somepony ages ago said you would get wings.”
Twilight had already seen how Trixie had reacted darkly over the idea of destiny, and how she was beginning to rant about it. Even if Trixie was a mere unicorn, she still could cause damage with the Alicorn Amulet if she got furious enough, and so Twilight sought to derail her, “What would your mother September think, or your father Wooden Chisel?” Twilight quickly asked, fumbling at ideas to make the madmare in front of her stop. “Wouldn’t they want Bellatrix Midsummer to succeed in life instead of chasing after something that will only lead to despair?”
Twilight wasn’t quite sure what she expected when she invoked Trixie’s true birth name. She didn’t expect Trixie to laugh, a hearty chuckle that nearly left her face red with its ferocity. “Oh, that’s rich! So you finally found out where Trixie came from, and the names of her parents! Maybe you even found out that she worked like an earth pony when she was young hauling hay and wheat, or that her father built her first cart for her. Perhaps you found out her fillyhood crush, or the exact location of her two birthmarks. Truly, Trixie is amused that you finally found her a threat enough to look into her origins, even if you still fail to appreciate Trixie’s true art.”
Yet Twilight knew her words had prickled something in Trixie. Trixie herself may not even have noticed it, but for those few brief moments, she had adopted her old habit of referring to herself in the third pony.
With a flourish of her robes, Trixie turned around, Twilight finding herself strangely mesmerised as her nemesis demonstrated the ease she pulled off a graceful canter, no doubt from her years working as a showmare. Quickly swiveling back around, Trixie spoke once more, slipping back into first pony speech, “No matter though, my parents would have approved. I’ve worked hard these last few years, you know. I’ve seen, touched the realm above.”
Princess Twilight Sparkle shivered at those words. The royal sisters had thought as much, but this was just confirmation that there was no turning back.
“Please, Trixie,” She found herself practically pleading regardless, even as she readied a spell on the tip of her horn, many long hours of practice finally paying off as there was no glow to indicate her charged magic, “Stop this madness. Turn back now. The Great and Powerful Trixie wouldn’t let herself be used by the Alicorn Amulet again, would she?”
 “The Great and Powerful Trixie is no more,” Trixie declared, surprising Twilight. She would never have expected Trixie to drop the appellations she was notorious for. “I felt it would dishonour the only one to ever truly defeat me.”
Twilight paused, partly surprised at the fact that Trixie had finally dropped the appellations she was notorious for, and partly from confusion at the latter remark. “But I’ve never called you anything other than Trix-“
“It wasn’t you,” Trixie said, cutting her off. “You were a challenge, yes, and you outwitted me at my own trade, but you never truly had the aggression to really win. She, on the other hood, was a menace to all of ponykind, neigh, all living things, and it was only luck that I vanquished her even as I was beaten. In turn, she gave unto me the name of Phantasmare.” Trixie sighed, the breath of ages releasing itself from her lungs as she looked down at the floor. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, honestly.”
“Because you want to be helped,” Twilight gently responded, thinking about how she might be able to destroy the Alicorn Amulet with a carefully timed blast, her skills at delicate magic improved since the last time she had faced off against the madmare equipped with the Amulet. “You know what you’re doing is wrong, and you want to be eased off the path you’re galloping down. Just take it off. If you come with me and train under me, you might even be able to become an Alicorn in time under your own power, not the Amulet’s.”
For once, Trixie didn’t respond right away with words. Instead, she slowly raised her head. It was the first time that Twilight felt there was no act to Trixie. The unicorn had a small smile, a barely visible curl of the lips. It was a sad smile. Trixie raised a hoof to the Alicorn Amulet, and in that instant Twilight knew-
-and suddenly, Twilight fired a condensed beam of scarlet mana at the Amulet, the spell a forbidden one capable of unravelling even the most powerful artifacts-
-and with little visible effort, Trixie batted the spell aside with her raised hoof, the beam tearing a large gouge in the stone wall, the sound of falling rock and the sight and taste of grit and dust in the air. With a blink, Trixie had vanished, even the telltales of magical leftovers undetectable to Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight reacted on something even higher than instinct, an ethereal prescience of what was to come available only to the Alicorns, and teleported, moving several hoofsteps to the left. Even as a searing blow of force meant to debilitate sent shrapnel flying, she was already casting, one spell to shield herself against the flying splinters of rock, another an arcane blast of raw power to find her enemy. The ancient Diamond Dog illusionist Hound-Inu had been clear on that – when lacking the talent to counter the fog of the senses, only the power of will was sufficient to pierce reality’s veil.
It wasn’t so much the sound of shattering glass as it was a similar sensation several dimensions above the four ponies normally operated in that alerted Twilight, and she moved again. Her first instinct was a doppelganger spell, but she quickly vetoed that idea: never attempt a spell that her opponent was a master at. She didn’t know it for a fact, but the traps that Trixie had laid within the Everfree Forest to devastate the attackers were circumstantial evidence enough.

Instead, Twilight leaped into the air, her natural Earth pony strength complementing her wings as she touched the ceiling, her hooves sticking to the surface in a trick she had picked up from the thestrals, whose evolutionary divergence from the pegasi had seen it become natural instinct.
Twilight’s eyes widened as she felt the magical backlash from the broken illusion pass through the point Twilight had just been. It was a normal side-effect of unravelling a spell, but that much would have seriously maimed her. Trixie’s strength had grown significantly to be capable of pouring that much power into just one spell. What was more, it hadn’t even done much, as Trixie was still nowhere to be seen, and she wasn’t giving herself away to any of Twilight’s physical or magical senses.
All the while ready to teleport at the slightest hint of a move from the nemesis, Twilight focused. Quickly inverting a normal spell matrix in her head, Twilight laid a circle on the ceiling with a quick stomp of her hooves, the shape quickly glowing as runic patterns engraved themselves, prodded into shape by Twilight’s magic. With a last fusion of energy into the circle, Twilight waited, and watched as it fizzled out. She cursed quietly. That had been a LaFlanke’s Demon spell, supposed to give the caster an inequine perception of the future, able to see all the routes the next few seconds could take.
That it hadn’t worked meant Trixie was operating at a level higher than any of the non-divine trainers Twilight had ever practiced against. Sighing, notching her opponent up several threat levels, the Alicorn Princess released her mental restraints, put in place so she could deal with mortal ponies. Trixie might be mortal, but she was no longer a normal opponent with normal amounts of power.

Magic filled Twilight, magic became Twilight and the world was a mere derivative of the twilight.

There! A precise force shield the size of her hoof sprung up in front of her, blocking a beam of magic an emerald green that curdled Twilight’s stomach just looking at it. The beam reflected off the shield before smashing into a balcony, stonework falling down. Twilight grit her teeth at the noise even as she took to the air, and created an energy dome around her form, a talent she had picked up from her brother. 

Unlike her brother, Twilight Sparkle had strayed beyond defense into offense, and the dome fell apart as it fed thousands of tiny pinpricks of magic, launched faster than the speed of sound outwards. The lasers may have been tiny, but they were legion, and as they radiated out from Twilight in a blast zone, the radii between each pinprick never differed more than a few millimetres. Unless Trixie had become a Breezie in the last few minutes, there was no way she could dodge all of them.

Twilight narrowed her eyes as a series of energy bolts stopped in mid-air. The spell itself was harmless, leaving little dots of paint, but to the superior eyesight of an Alicorn it was as if it had painted a target on the otherwise invisible Trixie. 

The air shimmered around the target, and Trixie lifted a hoof, brushing paint off her fur with one hoof, her horn glowing as she removed the robe from her body. “Well well Princess, it seems you’ve gotten more clever over-” She was cut off as an energy beam stared her in the face. Just at it seemed Trixie would be knocked out in one hint, the unicorn disappeared, the beam instead gouging a hole in the side wall.

Twilight Sparkle didn’t even think, her own body also teleporting so she wouldn’t remain at the disadvantage of Trixie knowing where she was in the room, and not vice versa. Twilight wasn’t surprised that Trixie had picked up the skill of teleporting in the last five years, given the former showmare’s other spells so far, but Twilight really should have expected it wouldn’t be that easy.

Her senses quickly cast out, hoping to find Trixie before the other pony could cast another one of those damnable illusions. They were too effective by half, standing up to Twilight’s scrutiny and sending multiple Royal Guards astray. Twilight bared her teeth in a feral grin unbecoming of a noble Princess as she sensed Trixie. It seemed the Amulet was making Trixie even more cocky than normal again, as she wasn’t even hidi-

Twilight teleported again to dodge an energy beam of Trixie’s own, her heart running even harder than before in a mad panic. She could still feel the heat from the laser, inches away from smacking her in the nose. Twilight didn’t let her pony instincts run rampant, crushing the temptation to flee and throwing an energy beam at where Trixie’s energy beam had come from, savage glee overtaking panic as her blood burned from the fire of the battle. It didn’t last as she felt a brief blip in the surroundings of the room, Trixie teleporting once more, as Twilight knew she would.

“You know what Trixie thinks the only bad part about being an alicorn must be? Your wings make you a bigger target. I certainly wouldn’t ever let my wings spr-” The voice was cut off as Twilight launched another attack at Trixie before teleporting. 

Twilight regretted never learning to self-levitate, having depending on her wings to fly since obtaining them. Trixie was right in that regard, but still: Twilight may already be getting into the heat of the fight, but she simply wasn’t savage enough to even consider clipping another pony’s wings, if not cutting them. If Trixie was hinting at what she might do, then the Alicorn Amulet might already be heavily influencing her. Unfortunately, Twilight didn’t have time to sit around analysing Trixie’s beam spells to figure if they were for blunt force or for cutting.

In a blink, Twilight teleported again, throwing out multiple attacks this time, and threw up another shield even as Trixie returned fire, the two magic-wielders getting into a third and final rematch, this time for keeps of their lives’ purpose. Twilight only had enough time to cast a cooling spell over her body to stop from overheating in between the multiple teleports and spell casts, straight energy beams giving way into looping energy beams, homing orbs of power that took precious seconds to dispel, fireballs every colour of the spectrum of the rainbow and more, jagged bolts of lightning that left Twilight’s wings tingling, and solid daggers of ice. Twilight Sparkle used every field and element of battle magic she knew except for wind, and gave as much as and more than she took.

It wasn’t enough.
“Wha-” Twilight didn’t even have time to completely form an exclamation of surprise as she teleported right into a shadow taken solid form, the phantasmal spectre smacking her into the nearest wall. It felt like she had been hit with the full force of one of the battering rams of old, worse than Rainbow Dash crashing through a window into Twilight, only luck making it her back side that cracked the stone wall before she flopped to the ground.
Pain filled Twilight Sparkle, but she soothed it away with multiple spells within the first two seconds. Her teeth may have been rattled, but it could have been worse: she could have hit the wall face-first to the front, breaking her jaw, knocking out teeth and snapping her horn. That would have required considerably more time to heal from.
Picking herself up off the floor, Twilight grit her teeth, even as she detached the tiny segment of space around her from the greater timeline, moving back in time several seconds. After applying the anti-paradox spell paradigms and stepping back into the world of moments ago, she growled as she was incapable of perceiving her opponent. How could this be? A unicorn not only matching an alicorn horn-for-horn in a magical duel of both strength and stamina, casting multiple energy beams and teleporting all over the place, but actually winning?
What was more, Trixie appeared to have overspecialised in illusions to the point Twilight was only able to decipher the most elementary of them. Five long years ago, Trixie had been nothing, her talent boosted by the arcane Alicorn Amulet at the cost of her sanity. Now, it seemed Trixie herself was in control, and the progress the mare had made was astonishing. What was more, the longer the battle ran the more her thaumaturgic prowess seemed to increase, as if Twilight was a living star, and Trixie had executed an orbital slingshot around her, picking up speed as their fight progressed.
Well, Trixie had claimed to have studied over the last few years, but still. When Twilight herself had been training, she found it difficult to believe five years had made that big a difference.

Twilight assessed her options. It didn’t take long for her to realise what they were, and the Princess of Friendship wanted to cry. Unfortunately for Trixie, she had defeated herself with her cleverness by splitting up Twilight and her friends. If Twilight had had her friends here, they could have brought Trixie back from the brink with the Elements of Harmony. Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, she could See. “Trixie!” Twilight barked as a distraction, her mouth nearly on autopilot as her hooves quickly flashed out, drawing lines of raw magic in the air. 

It was a shame that only those possessed of Sight could see it, for when Twilight had first created this shape of non-Euclopidean proportions it had left her breathless with its beauty, both in its form and the seductive promises of power it promised. Her inability to describe what she saw was one of the few academic thrills that Twilight had left, its indefinable lines and even the colour of the multi-dimensional creation one of the few things that Twilight struggled with, and ergo knew an eternity would pass before she ran out of things to solve. After this battle, the power behind Trixie’s illusions would be another thing she could add to that short list.

The Princess of Magic’s hooves stopped, and she activated the construct. Nature abhorred a magical vacuum, and so it filled the spell, engorging it with energy far surpassing the ambient magical density even this deep into the Everfree Forest.. Every beat of blood from her heart brought to her cells a new dose of adrenaline, and Twilight could feel herself shaking in time with the spell, its original stillness displaced by the vibrating power that threatened to tear apart the foundations of the spell matrix.

Twilight held the construct within her mind for as long as she could. When she felt as if she could go on no longer, her lungs compressed to their minimum capacity and the non-stop sweat stinging her eyes, she let go, blinking briefly as she teleported away from the throne room, landing on the ground of the Everfree Forest outside their chamber of battle.

The windows were the first to go, the shattering of a thousand panes of glass all united in a horrifying crystalline beauty of sound. Mere thousandths of a second later the high pitch of the shattered windows was drowned out by a large, overwhelming roar, as superheated compressed air shot out the windows, only the natural magic of the Everfree preventing the surrounding trees from being lit afire by the overwhelming heat.

Twilight Sparkle winced as she heard a large thud from inside the throne room, and saw a torrent of dust and dirt rising into the evening outdoors. Despite Trixie’s mad scheme, fixing up the castle had been a good idea of hers, and now Twilight’s spell to kill her had apparently damaged the roof.

She counted the passage of several minutes, casting her senses out for her friends, and found herself disappointed. As usual, the natural chaos of the Everfree blocked her from sifting too far into the world, and she could not tell what was going on in the battles she had left them behind in. Twilight supposed that so long as she cut off the head of the proverbial snake, the body might flail for a few hours, but it would eventually give in.

A soft breeze swept through the night. It sounded almost like whispering. Even through all her fur, Twilight shivered, only now realising how sweat clung to her.

At last satisfied that enough energy had been vented out from the throne room that she would no longer cook, Twilight took to the air, flapping her wings to gain lift, a dozen minor spells instinctively cast to protect her face and horn from the dust and dirt that had been kicked up and still lingering in the air, filtering out pure air for her to breathe.

Eyes as good as any pegasus pierced the hazey interior of the throne room, and the romantic historian in Twilight cried out in horror. Gone were the tapestries of sun and moon, ones which Rarity had spent some time years ago on fixing up. The organ that Pinkie Pie had fooled with had been shattered, a priceless artifact of the pre-Nightmare Moon era destroyed just like that. The architecture of the stairs and railing leading up to the raised stage was no more, and the ground was littered with glass, stone and metal. Twilight’s heart sang with despair, and only her noticing the thrones had been removed from the throne room, presumably by Trixie or one of her minions, kept her from bursting out in tears.
“How disappointing.”

Twilight’s head snapped up, and a growl began to form in her vocal cords. She hadn’t been entirely certain the blast would take out Trixie, though it did the job of breaking whatever illusion Trixie had been hiding. However, the blue-furred unicorn didn’t appear to have even been singed, blood, bone and fur virtually unharmed by the blast. Even more, Trixie was floating in the air. Twilight could count on her hooves how many unicorns she knew who were capable of self-levitation and still have hooves left over.

Trixie cocked her head, and now the dust was beginning to finally clear out, and Twilight stirred with disgust even as her throat burned, the strenuous magic she had been pulling out causing acid reflux. Gone were her robes, to where they went Twilight didn’t know, if they weren’t another illusion Trixie had conjured up. Trixie was normally possessed of fur a lustrous shade of blue not dissimilar to the sky on a clear day, but now her hair colour was a far lighter blue like water tinged with a drop of food dye. What was more, the glow of magic around Trixie’s horn was red. Her irises, normally close in shade to Twilight’s own magenta, were a haunting crimson of fresh blood, and Twilight felt an unsettling feeling, uncertain if the shade of red was from her dark magic or from the albinism that seemed to be settling in on the unicorn.

Despair was making a strong claim for Twilight’s soul, but she had to try, “Trixie, please take off the Amulet. This obviously isn’t you.”

Trixie sneered. “What are you talking about, Princess Twilight Sparkle?” The mocking tone she placed in Twilight’s royal title was obvious, “Trixie feels more like herself than she has in five years! This is perfect!”

She was right about that, Twilight thought to herself. This situation was perfectly wrong. Being able to escape one of Twilight’s strongest attacks unscathed meant that Twilight would have to attempt what she had never committed before.

It was a maxim of military ponies, something Twilight had heard from her brother and her battle magic trainers on several occasions: it was far more difficult to subdue a difficult pony than it was to kill her.

“Very well,” Twilight grit her teeth, and her eyes glowed white even as her mane became streaked with wild stripes of yellow, purple and light pink, six-sided stars appearing around her hooves. Magic flowed out of her in ethereal waves, pulsing in time to her heartbeat as the seat of her mana infused her deplenished blood, replacing the effused power. The power of Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, Princess of Magic turned visible as it floated around the room, coating the entire area in the essence of twilight.

Trixie observed, a smirk on her pale lips, only trickles of colour left on her body outside her eyes, “Trixie finds this amusing. Do you really believe you can beat the Great and Powerful Trixie and her illusions?!”

That’s right, keep talking...Twilight thought to herself as Trixie stuck out her chest, as if she were intent on proving the proverb of pride before the fall. Forty five seconds...forty seconds...She could provide her own distract, actually. “You won’t win, Trixie,” Twilight proclaimed.

“Is that so? Is Princess Twilight purple with envy over Trixie’s skill? Oops,” Trixie giggled, a weird dissonance as the pitch of her voice was dropping, “You’re already purple!”

“And you’re turning white,” Twilight remarked. “Is this skill you speak of really worth turning over your independence, dignity and sanity to the Alicorn Amulet, Trixie?!”

The snarl that crossed Trixie’s lips was easy to spot even if she vanquished it quickly, but Twilight would have sworn she saw a tinge of violet in the unicorn mare’s eyes for the briefest of moments. No matter, Twilight thought to herself even as she struggled to keep her own eyes from tearing up with water. Trixie had been a bit of an arrogant braggart the first time they had met but had still attempted to stop the Ursa Minor, and she managed to turn back from the whispers of the Amulet in their second meeting. 

Twilight Sparkle had apparently been a chosen one of destiny when she was young to become the wielder of the Element of Magic and later a Princess. Was it that same fate that demanded she kill Trixie Lulamoon this day? Twilight could suddenly see why Trixie hated destiny, if this was what cruel fate it had in store for her.

“Trixie thinks you don’t know what you’re talking about, Twilight Sparkle,” Trixie declared. “For Trixie, winning this battle is as simple as an illusi-er, an illusi-er, an illu-Trixie demands to know what is going on here!” The mare’s arrogance had collapsed into panic within seconds as Trixie had repeated herself twice over before finally breaking.

Twilight smiled. It wasn’t a happy smile. It wasn’t a vengeful smile.

What did you do to Trixie?!”

“It’s simple, Trixie,” Twilight said slowly as if she was explaining to a dim-witted filly, though in truth she was delaying to gather more energy for her last spell. “This room is coated in my magic taken mist form. It doesn’t matter how good your illusions are when your very essence, your very soul is incapable of hiding from this mist.”

Trixie trembled, before sneering again, “No matter, I’ll just-just-just-no!” She exclaimed, and Twilight could swear she saw violet again past the red.

“You’re not going anywhere, Trixie,” Twilight grimaced, her magic holding the other pony in a strong telekinetic grasp, simultaneously preventing Trixie from teleporting. “Rainbow power wasn’t meant to be wielded this way, but just this once I’ll make an exception. I gave you several chances to turn back. Sadly, it seems you weren’t strong enough to resist the Amulet this time.”

No! No! NO!” Trixie thrashed and struggled, but the magic constraining her allowed a movement measured in mere centimetres.

“For what it’s worth Trixie, I’m sorry,” Twilight apologised, tears running freely down her face even as she built the same spell bomb as she had earlier, its size expanded by her use of Rainbow Power. “I can only hope that you find peace wherever it is ponies end up after death, and that the Amulet won’t survive this to corrupt another pony ever again. Hush, Trixie,” She brushed the now fully-white showmare’s cheek. “It’ll cost me some of my precious remaining magic, but I’ll even stay as a witness to your death. Maybe I’m not as good as you are at illusions, but I’ve still learned how to become incorporeal. This bomb won’t affect me.”

Twilight finally took a step back, moving several steps away. She judged how much longer the bomb could gather magic for. With thirty seconds left, she set the bomb on autopilot. With quick spells to modify her senses, Princess Twilight Sparkle cast the last spell of the battle, one to turn her from temporarily insubstantial to reality. Energy couldn’t phase her in this form, and so she would watch as Trixie died. A Princess had to be responsible, and for the first person she would ever kill, Twilight would watch her end to remind herself of how tragic death was.

“Goodbye, Trixie.”

She counted the seconds in her head, keeping an eye on the radiant bomb and the ensnared mare sitting in front of it. Twilight was taking no chances here, an enormous explosion at point-blank range was certain to smash any last-minute protections the Alicorn Amulet might have to protect its bearer against death. Trixie’s eyes seemed impossible wide, her mouth open in what may have been a loud scream. Twilight burned the sight into her memory.

Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Thre-

Trixie’s mouth suddenly closed, her lips curled upwards, and her eyes narrowed. Her horn glowed violet.

Twilight didn’t have the chance to react as she felt herself being pulled back into the physical world. Panic set in as she realised she too would be exposed to the impending explosion. Nonononono-

The world exploded.

She attempted to open her eyes. The scent of iron was strong, her tongue numb to its taste.
With a struggle, she managed to weakly crack her right eye open, then  closed it just as quick, the gust of wind through the open wall stinging it with the fine particles left behind by their battle.
The wind. Something about that word bothered her. There was something about a unicorn, pale not as a natural coat but the deficiency of all colour. The medical documents left behind indicated it appeared to be albinism, but his eyes…

Groaning, she focused her attention on each of her limbs in turn. Although in great pain, a quick diagnostic cantrip showed nothing was broken. Finding the floor, she staggered her way to a standing position, front hooves first, then her back. The effort cost her dearly as it felt like all the blood on her body, inside and out, had congealed in her head, threatening to pull her over into gravity’s sweet embrace. It was good she had yet to open her eyes, lest she see double, perhaps even triple.
Triple. That was the second word that tickled a spot in her currently limited mental capacity. Triple, triple, triple, trippy, trippie, trickie…
Her one good eye shot open as she finally remembered.
Even with her other eye sealed shut by blood and mucus, Twilight Sparkle didn’t need the extra depth perception to take in the scene before her.
At last, she opened her muzzle-
-and the words “It’s over” came from Twilight’s mouth.



Well-Known Member
If Trixie was to pinpoint an exact moment that would be the genesis of her journey, it would have been five years ago. At the time, she had just finished a two-week gig performing nightly at the Greatest Outdoor Show in Equestria in the city of Coltgary.

Having rebounded from an unfortunate incident with a magical trinket less than a year ago, Trixie had been hesitant in accepting the offered contract, but the audiences had loved her. Being able to feed off the adulation of her crowds, and not above munching on grass and wild flowers when travelling, Trixie’s living expenses usually amounted to the materials she purchased for her fireworks and wagon maintenance. The contract fees and patron donations Trixie hauled in at Coltgary would suffice for a full year.
Stuffed, nearly bloated with energy from the vibrant excitement of the crowds during the days as the rodeos were performed, and the glee of ponies, she had decided at last to return home for the first time in over a year, with a few extra books from the stores of Coltgary to be added to her father’s library.
Wanderlust had conquered the blue-furred mare from an early age, and it had abated the sting Trixie had felt when forced to drop out of magical school as she instead travelled. Despite that, the need for home and kinship still claimed her, especially after her failings in life. Unfortunately, sojourns with those she considered her relatives never sated that lust for home.
Home for Trixie was the village of Whinnychester, a more ponydunk place she had never seen, but still home. It was where she had grown up, and where her father still lived.
Through refinery of the energy she had gathered into physical stamina, and joining a wagon chain Trixie had encountered on one of the main roads crisscrossing Equestria, sharing a burden amongst multiple ponies in return for continuous movement while she was sleeping at night, what would normally have been a four day journey across the continent had been whittled to a mere two and a half. 

Every time Trixie saw a new wagon, however, ache gnawed at her heart once more even as it inspired her at seeing other ponies with the freedom to go wherever they chose. The last time she had returned to Whinnychester, Trixie’s father had helped her to build a new cart following the destruction of her old one during the Ursa incident in Ponyville. The new cart had lasted less than three months before it had been destroyed by vandals who had heard about said incident. Her lack of money at the time and inability to build a new wagon from scratch by herself had led her to working on a rock farm, and from there it had all gone downhill faster for Trixie than greased wheels on a steep slope.

She had shaken her head several times during the journey home. It would not do good to let herself wallow in shame, when the inability to hide her shame from her father was what had kept her away from home for so long.
Trixie remembered the sunset that had begun to form as she finally came into the outskirts of Whinnychester, her methodical canter turning into an excited trot as the smell of wheat tickled her nose. Hues of pinks, yellows and oranges dueled it out with one another, a natural beauty that had once inspired Trixie in fillyhood to poetry, albeit a passion that had been quickly ditched. It was strange, but that sunset was the image that would always come to mind when she recalled that fateful evening.
“Bella? Is that you?”
She paused, thoughts of getting home to her father dashed for the sake of social niceties. “Yes, Mr. Star?” Trixie asked the red-furred Earth pony who had stopped in front of her on the road. It had only taken a few seconds for her to recognise him. Morning Star had been her neighbor when she lived in Whinnychester, and while Trixie had taken one diminutive of her birth name for her personal identity, Morning Star had been one of the villagers who had always used a different nickname for her. Trixie wanted to sit down on her haunch but abstained, knowing that if she took pressure off her back hooves for only a few minutes, it would be very uncomfortable to walk the last few minutes to her father’s household.
A sad look passed the Earth pony’s face, and Trixie ever-so-slightly tensed, feeling the stirring of a complex pot of emotions. Morning Star was the village doctor, preferring to be called Mister in idle conversation, but he was also the focal point of the town’s gossip network. If you so much as swiped one of Miss Scone’s cooling pastries off her kitchen windowsill, Morning Star probably knew about it.
And right now he was feeling sadness, guilt, a little bit of anger, and a strong dash of something Trixie could only ever identify as resignation.
Morning Star paused for a long moment, surveying her face for a long second, before sighing. “You’ve been gone too long. News never reached you, did it? Your father is missing, Bella, and he may be dead.”
She almost completely froze in place, only her rising hackles interrupting the picture still of a horrified mare. Split-second compartmentalising of her rising panic from the rest of her mental state honed by a life of showmareship allowed her to speak again. “What...what happened?” Her voice cracked, and she mentally cursed as her control started to slip, unshed tears struggling to be let free.
Morning Star shook his head. “An Equestrian Army patrol came into town, and they used a spell to check all the villagers for changelings. They found a changeling posing as your father. It attempted to run away when the patrol tried to interrogate it.” He stood up on his hind legs to pull Trixie in close, hugging her hard. “I’m so sorry Trixie. They tried to capture it to find Chisel’s whereabouts, but one of their spells accidentally killed it, and we haven’t been able to find your father since.”
This time there was no effort to hold back the tears as she embraced the hug Morning Star offered.


Wooden Chisel was presumed dead by the village of Whinnychester, but only the wandering blue mare who was his daughter knew it for a fact. It wasn’t due to a magic spell which Trixie could have used to divine this truth, but because the changeling had never impersonated anypony.
As a race of pony-sized beings looking like a hybrid between an equine and a beetle, capable of impersonating perfectly the appearance of any species close in size, the changelings were a host of contradictions. Even a few years after their existence was exposed on a wide scale following a failed invasion attempt, the general pony population knew precious little about them. They could match the size, texture and voice of any they wished to replace. A mucus they excreted was often used to cocoon those they replaced. They thrived off the emotions of other species, primarily love directed at those whom the changelings appeared to be, using it as their main source of sustenance in place of food and water.
Trixie knew many more details. Changelings were capable of coexisting with ponies who knew whom they were. Her mother had been one of those ponies. And changeling-pony couples were also capable of having foals, with the mare gestating as normal. Her mother, September Midsummer, again had been one of those ponies, giving birth to a filly named Bellatrix Midsummer. A male changeling could sire a pony. Her father, Wooden Chisel, had been one of those changelings.
Changeling-pony hybrids were incredibly rare, however, with Wooden Chisel once telling Trixie there might be a couple dozen alive at any time. While there were more couples than that, offspring were less common, due to the singular transformation imperfection of being nominally sterile. It took, from what a red-faced Chisel had once told Trixie when asked about this, an incredible amount of energy to bridge the special divide and temporarily be virile, energy that was typically only accumulated through many months of cohabitation with a trusting pony partner. And although it was rare for male changeling female pony couples to conceive, it was basically impossible the other way around, due to the energy requirements a female changeling would need to host a foal for many months, something only a queen might have access to.
As a hybrid, however, Trixie had little to worry about. The most invasive medical examination would not show a single difference between her and any other pony, and changeling detection spells would return a negative. She was only a hybrid magically, able to feed off of emotions to a reduced extent. However, she lacked the ability to transform like a changeling altogether, only capable of physical alterations through unicorn magic.
Changelings were capable of using all three subspecies of pony magic, and so in turn, Trixie was lightly capable of working with both the earth and the heavens, her long travels made less stressful as the earth sung to her with every pitter-patter of her hooves, rain and wind rarely bothering her in the less weather-managed expanses between towns. She had wondered sometimes whether her flair for illusions was something that came from having a changeling for a father who could transform, or all her, but lacked the sample size of unicorn hybrid offspring. At the time she had shrugged the thought off; she had never been a scholarly mare anyways.

It was all this and more that Trixie considered as she stood in front of her father’s gravestone. Wooden Chisel had prepaid for the plot, setting it next to the gravestone of his wide, Trixie’s mother, September Midsummer. Neither had expected it would be up so soon. One of the great tragedies of the world was that despite their graves being next to one another, husband and wife would never be buried close. September had been lowered into the ground here in a casket in one of Trixie’s lowest days. A changeling was not fit to bury in a pony graveyard, his body burned and the ashes spread into the nearest river, a custom ponies thought changelings followed from a rumour that had once spread around.

The rumour was actually partially true, but Trixie knew her father would have wished to follow pony tradition in this case. For once in her life, Trixie wished that the villagers would have realised her father’s suspect colour scheme as a pony, black fur with an ashen-grey mane and sea-blue eyes, so close to what the changelings of her father’s hive resembled. But dead stallions told no tales, and Trixie didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye.

And so she found herself hovering over Wooden Chisel’s grave, lacking his body. 

In the minutes and hours following Morning Star’s revelation, Trixie thought she had cried enough tears for her lifetime. The emptiness of the building her family had called home hadn’t been enough to renew her tears, but the sight of her father’s gravestone next to her mother’s left her chest wracked with choking sobs, the fur of her cheeks drenched with trickling tears. Trixie’s mother had died when she was young, but her father had always seemed like an immovable object. She regretted that she had not heard of the Changeling invasion as soon as it happened, having been stuck on a rock farm where they were always six months behind the rest of the world. Otherwise, she may have been able to visit him one last time before she made the life-changing decision to put on that Amulet.

Sniffing to herself some more, Trixie blew her nose out, wiping the mucus on the grass, before looking back at the gravestone.

Despite his name, Wooden Chisel was capable of carving more materials than just wood, and had created his own grave, leaving only his death date for another pony to put in. The hammer and chisel he had adopted as a Cutie Mark were engraved in right under his name, a far cry from the more elaborate affair he had created for his wife.

Here Lies Wooden Chisel 
Loving Husband and Father

The epitaph mirrored his wife’s, but Wooden Chisel also had his own motto, the last thing engraved in the stone as if it were to be his last will and testament. It seemed generic enough to the casual observer. Trixie knew it was his feelings on his choice to leave the hive and the consequence that came of it, finding love in a pony.

Who Dares, Wins

Trixie didn’t feel very daring at all right now.


Trixie didn’t remember much of the months that followed her father’s death.
It was as if the part of her that retained functional memories was a black hole, sucking in the glittering starlight of all that had been good about her mother and father.
Later on, after the pain and hurt had faded, Trixie would admit she was fortunate she had found out about Wooden Chisel’s tragic end in Whinnychester, and not received the news elsewhere. While her parent’s homestead could bring about raw, painful flashbacks of her time as a foal playing with her parents, it also alleviated the gnawing ache that wormed its way through her heart. Furthermore, the villagers of Whinnychester made the perfect support network, willing to provide her a shoulder to cry on, all while remembering their own fond stories of September Midsummer and Wooden Chisel. 

Though she moped, she moped while tugging a plow down one of the many farms, the exertion a welcome distraction from the festering blister of heartache that threatened to burst open at any moment. Trixie may not have been born an Earth Pony, but the egalitarian culture of Whinnychester considered all those willing to pull their weight as honourary Earth Ponies.

Her house had been empty of inhabitants for several months, only occasionally checked in on, maintained for the day the prodigal daughter would return home. The Whinnychesterites had partially tidied up, but left the place partly undone for Trixie to decide how to restore it. When Wooden Chisel the Changeling had been found out, the villagers had ransacked the September household, looking to see if they could locate Wooden Chisel the Pony.  One of the more enterprising Pegasi had thought to measure the dimensions of each room and realised the existence of the family’s secret panic room. When the ponies were unable to find the entrance they tore open a room, saddened that there was no cocoon for them to tear apart. Trixie didn’t begrudge them for the action.

And that was the worst part. She couldn’t blame anypony. Even the Royal Guard who had inadvertently killed her father was anonymous, his spell one of several that plausibly may have struck the death blow. As far as anypony knew, Wooden Chisel was a pony. That would remain the case, lest the eye of the state or the Third Estate be turned on Trixie herself. Trixie desperately wished to be able to extol the life of her mother and father, to tell other people who they had been and what they had done. She still could, but without the unique detail of his being a Changeling, a great part of the story was lost.

But Trixie knew her father wouldn’t have wanted her to expose herself. Morning Star the doctor, who had given her multiple check-ups when she was young; Blueberry Scone the baker, who had snuck her more than the occasional treat when she was just a filly; Red Fife the farmer, who always had a decent-paying task of manual labour available for a unicorn who could pull her weight both with body and spell; Einkorn the    slate-furred Earth Pony playcolt, one of many of Trixie’s fillyhood friends and one of few who remained in Whinnychester, who she had had a number of flings with when younger; and many more were all her friends and neighbors. They would all help her get over her loss, and Trixie knew she could confide in them. Except when it came to the truth of her paternal heritage.

It shouldn’t have been such a sticking point for her. Her father had all but abandoned his culture to live among ponies. But it was.

Nothing tore at Trixie’s heart more than when she had to send letters to her ‘aunts and uncles’, telling them of Wooden Chisel’s death.


It was a clear day out. The road leading west out of Whinnychester wound around several times as it dropped and climbed, but Trixie could see several thousand hoofsteps out to the horizon. She could do this.

Trixie took a deep breath, and summoned her spirits. One step, two step, three step, four step, she moved forward counting one hoof at a time, keeping her eyes lowered and occupied on the dirt road, and away from the distance.

It didn’t work. Within minutes, Trixie felt her hooves growing heavier, as if gravity was stronger the further out she went.

She burst into tears. Following the Alicorn Amulet Trixie had been prodded into going to see a psychologist about any issues she might have developed between the rock farm and the magical possession. It was also suggested to her that if she was returning to performing, it would do well to stay ahead of any mental problems she might develop as a result of constantly being on the road and never staying in any place too long to create connections with other ponies.

At the time, Trixie had hoof-waved away the warning by the psychologist that one big incident could push her over the edge. It seemed she owed the doctor an apology for ignoring his warnings. Whinnychester may have been where her parents died, but it was also where Wooden Chisel and September Midsummer had lived. Somehow, she just couldn’t seem to bear to leave, and her body turned against her when she attempted otherwise.

Sighing, Trixie turned around, looking down the hill she had worked her way up, back into the valley that hosted Whinnychester. She made to trot back down, but paused. Looking back, she saw the moon setting in the western sky, providing little wisps of moonlight even as the sun was rising in the east. Her own Cutie Mark had come to her under the gaze of that same moon. Someday, Trixie would chase the night sky. It appeared tonight would not be that night.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately. What is the nature of this world? We’re born, we live, we die and are returned to the aether? I can’t say I’m anywhere near as intelligent as some of the ponies and griffons who have lived in the past, and I’ll never be as long-lived as a dragon. I’m not cut-out out for that type of deep thinking. Aristrotles formed the groundwork for our modern life today, and I can’t even understand half what he says. From what I can understand of some of his successors who have also pondered the same questions I ask myself now, we should accept our individual lives as a fleeting moment in the passing of a greater whole.

But I don’t want to be a fleeting footnote in history. I don’t want the only proof I ever lived to vanish, as records aren’t duplicated and are lost to time, as my name and life engraved into stone are worn away by wind and water. I’ve always felt that I should have been able to do better. Yet life has always seemed to thrown me around like the wild waves of the undiscerning oceans. First I had to drop out of school, then I lost my mother. Next I lost my reputation, then my sanity and pride, and last my father. Wandering the roads of Equestria and beyond soothed that ache, but even that freedom has been denied me now. 

I...perhaps it’s time I make an opportunity of this instead of continuing to merely exist.


Well-Known Member
'New Moon: Whinnychester'
The moon was in its full phase this morning, the moonlight washing all those on the planet below in its divine light. One of its recipients basked in the glow of the moon, feeling at home with it; after all, the moon was a part of her Cutie Mark, even if it were in a lesser phase.

Trixie looked out at the moon, book trailing behind her in a magical grip, letting out a yawn at the early hours she woke up to. With the disappearance of the Mare in the Moon several years ago, amateur and professional astronomers and selenologists alike had fumbled with their telescopes, releasing papers and books on the lunar geography that had been hidden by the Mare in the Moon. Trixie hadn’t kept up with minutiae of it all, but the opening of an Equestrian library branch in Whinnychester had allowed for her to request copies of the most popular papers. It had freed her wages up for more personal research, such as the book she was toting behind her, a rare tome ordered from Canterlot.

With a flick of her tail, Trixie turned off the light switch for the room, plunging her household into total darkness bar the moonlight streaming in through the window. Setting her book down on the stairs, Trixie opened the latch to the window, before setting up her telescope. With one last glow of her horn, Trixie cast a spell of her own devising to prevent the cool night air from rushing into her warm abode.

Licking her lips in anticipation, Trixie closed one eye as she pressed the other against the lens of the telescope, her magic more delicately calibrating the telescope than hooves could ever hope to. It didn’t take long for her to hone in on the moon. With finesse, she zoomed in, exploring the craters that had been hidden by the massive illusion cast by the Mare on the Moon. 

It was said that, much like the waxing and the waning of the moon itself, magic itself had ebbs and flows in its presence on the moon, never quite hitting the crescendo and staying long enough for life to start on the moon and perpetuate. With Princess Luna, Avatar of the Moon, Discord, Avatar of Chaos, and a new Avatar of Magic all aligned with one another, it was believed the next time magic returned to the moon in full force that life could be established and sustained for the first time in recorded history.

Trixie had heard about this, read about it, and even sent a letter off to a professor in Manehatten about it once, but in the end, Trixie would be sad if it happened. Ponies and other species had pioneered new lands in the past, her hometown of Whinnychester having been started less than a century ago, but if the moon was settled, it would become a resplendent mixture of greens, blues and browns. No longer would ponies be able to look upon the enthralling blue-white sheen of the Moon, untouched by any but for one.

“I should probably tip the mailpony the next time he comes around,” Trixie said aloud to herself as she backed away from the telescope, wiping off a thin sheen of sweat above her brow. He had done good work, tirelessly delivering odds and ends such as her telescope that Trixie had ordered from all over the place, be it Canterlot, the Crystal Empire, Cloudsdale and many more. While her father had never been able to see the last few books she had brought home in her saddlebags, she had filled the empty shelves he had built in her time away from home and then some. Her own woodwork was amateurish compared to Wooden Chisel, but for holding books it would do.

Trotting away from her study area where she had propped up her equipment, Trixie maneuvered through the downstairs area. A quick cast of her magical senses showed nopony around; it had never caught anypony, but Trixie had started doing it from paranoia and habit was difficult to break. Quietly, she used telekinesis to manipulate the latch from the underside of a wooden plank before lifting up a part of the floor, revealing a hideaway. The panic room her father had built in place had been discovered when the villagers were searching her house for a possible Changeling cocoon, and so it was no longer of use.

Trixie had instead since torn out the remaining wall and expanded the large living area next to it, but the idea had stuck with her, and she had dug out a small underground section, protected against humidity and fire as well as snooping eyes. Trixie adored cliches as part of her performances, but she would forgo them in designing the new bunker: one had to know where it was, and the only way to open it up was through the telekinetic grasp of the underside latch. She had made a habit of putting her more valuable items in here, and the old book she had been reading about fairy tales involving the Mare on the Moon was one of them.

With the book tucked away in the bunker, Trixie made her way back to the telescope, adjusting it slightly to account for the movement of the moon in the last few minutes. Seeing nothing new to entice her for the early morning hours, Trixie made to zoom out to focus on the stars, and then halted.

There was a dark spot on the moon.

Wait, was that really a dark spot? It seemed to be getting larger. And larger again. Had Trixie adjusted the lens without even consciously thinking about it? No, that spot was definitely getting darker.

Letting out a yelp, Trixie realised it wasn’t a dark spot on the moon, but an approaching object that appeared to be launched straight at her house. Quickly pushing the telescope to the side, she cast the only spell she could think of to be relevant in the situation, a spell that would catch an object and slow its momentum without causing damage. The best analogy she had heard was of it being a bungee cord or perhaps a net.

With baited breath, Trixie cast the spell over the entirety of her western wall, hoping to slow the momentum of whatever it was that was approaching. All too sudden, the object breached the outer limits of her spell, and it began to respond accordingly, decreasing the object’s velocity. It just wasn’t enough, and Trixie wailed in surprise as whatever it was bowled through her open window, knocking into Trixie and sending her rolling over the floor.

“Urgh, my head,” Trixie moaned as she managed to get one limb off the floor, thankful that her horn hadn’t been injured. Cracked horns weren’t unheard of, but while they healed over time, they were very inconvenient in the interim.

Slowly, she managed to make her way up onto her two back limbs, feeling as disoriented as if she had been partaking of distilled whiskey from the surplus grains of Whinnychester. She looked around herself, and at last saw what it was that had run into her: it wasn’t a Pegasus, but it was a winged pony, a batpony in fact, a member of a tribe that had diverged from the normal Pegasi several hundred years ago.

Trixie looked closer, and blinked. The features on this batpony’s face looked rather familiar, and Trixie was able to identify her as female. Her fur colour, including her flanks, were of a uniform slate grey. Slowly, memories of a childhood friend who had she had seen a couple of times in the years since as a showmare that she had traveled to Canterlot for resurfaced. She knew this mare. She was Trixie’s cousin.

“New Moon?!”


Time healed all wounds, but some wounds healed slower than others. Days washed into weeks morphed into months passed over into years.

Trixie felt the burden of time as if it were a giant wave crashing over her. She struggled to break the surface but the sheer force of the tides pressed upon her, leaving her gasping for air in her few moments of respite from time’s relentless march. News of the outside world passed Whinnychester by. There had been something about a giant centaur sucking up magic from the ponies of Equestria, but with their village being so rural, nothing had come of it.

There were many things the orphaned unicorn had found to act as wave breakers. Trixie may have been psychologically crippled to the point of being incapable of leaving Whinnychester, but within its borders she was known and loved even with the loss of her parents. Within weeks, Trixie had spoken with Canola, a grain farmer who was one of her parent’s colleagues, and she was again a vital asset to the farmers. 

Unicorns were not exactly quicker than Earth ponies at farming, but they made for a deft hoof in auxiliary activities, capable of stacking bales of hay where others could not or sucking excess moisture out of the ground following heavy rains, and unicorns were few in Whinnychester. Trixie didn’t shy away from the more physical labour, however. While much of her time with the Alicorn Amulet was a blur, she distinctly recalled her muscle tone wasting away and gaining weight as her magic took over for any real semblance of grunt work she had previously performed, such as pulling a wagon along rough roads or smashing rocks. Trixie was still vain, and she had little desire to look on the plump side again. As the offspring of a hybrid coupling of Changeling and Ponyville, Trixie also had passive access to magic of the other two tribes, albeit in much smaller proportions. Her small pool of Earth pony magic helped to boost her endurance over time.

Many a pony thought the average farmer a simple pony. Trixie didn’t disagree with the assessment, but she had nothing but the greatest of respect for them. The schedule set by the seasons, more natural than manipulated this far out, also suited her: she laboured as many as sixteen hours a day outdoors during the late summer and early autumn, then was able to retire to the warm indoors for the winter. It was here, as time passed, that Trixie was at last able to recover, no longer burdened by her own expectations of greatness, and instead learn whatever interested her for the joy of learning and understanding, instead of the need for fame and power.

It had been one similar evening to this, watching the full moon and the countless stars in the night sky above that Trixie thought she could live and die in Whinnychester now, perpetuating the cycle of life.

Trixie had never accounted for the winds of change. Little did she know that where all other ponies built walls, she alone would build a windmill. It started with a literal wind that blew a batpony into her parents’ house.


“Urgh, my head,” The batpony on the floor moaned as she unknowingly repeated what Trixie had said only moments earlier, said head nestled in between her front limbs and wings.

“Yes,” Trixie snorted, her nostrils wrinkling in distaste, “Your head, indeed. Perhaps you should get it checked to see why you decided to fly recklessly to the point you crashed. If it weren’t for my spell, you’d be hurting a lot more than you do now.”

“Huh-wha-?” The winged pony fumbled about, attempting to find purchase on the floorboards with her hooves. Nopony who saw her in that moment could state with a straight face that she was possessed of grace. Trixie found herself wincing; it was just painful seeing her old friend struggle to rise, as if she were drunk instead of disoriented. “Trixie? Is that you? It is you!” The batpony stumbled as she moved along, but finally made it over to where the unicorn was, wrapping a hoof around Trixie’s neck.

Trixie tensed at the contact, neck stiffening under New Moon’s touch, but then the other mare wrapped a wing around her fur, and Trixie instantly relaxed at the soft velvety texture of the bat-like appendage. Years ago, Trixie had lived with New Moon and her parents when Trixie was attending magic school in Canterlot. She had spent many a day off school playing with the other filly, and as fillies were wont to do, had slept in the same bed with her. The soft wings of the batpony had always helped lull Trixie to sleep.

She just hadn’t remembered such little things because of the traumatic ending that always come to the forefront when she thought about that time: being forced to drop out, not because of poor grades or money, but to hide her identity as the daughter of a Changeling and pony.

Wait. Was New Moon crying?

“Oh, Trixie,” New Moon said, tears washing down her cheeks, marring the slate grey colour of her fur. “It’s been so long since I’ve last seen you, how many years has it been exactly?”

“Twelve,” Trixie said, having already done the math in her head. She opened her mouth to speak, then thought better of it. Something had clearly occurred for New Moon to come out all the way to Whinnychester in the middle of the night in early autumn. It would be better for the other mare to start talking first.

Unexpectedly, New Moon started shaking, and her crying intensified. Trixie startled at the choking sobs of her fillyhood friend. She found herself at a loss for a few moments before long-dormant instincts awoke. Slowly, Trixie wrapped her own forelegs around the batpony, patting New Moon’s back with her own hooves in a soft motion. Looking out the window at the full moon and the stars beyond, Trixie found herself humming out a soft tune, one she fondly recalled her own mother September Midsummer using to lull Trixie to sleep as a filly.

Slowly, the heavy jerks of the other pony began to subside, New Moon’s loud sniffing calming down as tears streaks dried out on her cheeks, leaving spots of darkened fur. “I remember that tune,” New Moon said at last, sounding melancholic, “You used to hum it every night in bed until you fell asleep.”

“Did I?” Trixie asked, mildly surprised. “It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten ever doing so.”

“You did,” New Moon confirmed, her amber eyes wandering off into the distance as if she could see into the past. Considering some of the rumoured talents of Princess Luna, Trixie gave it a not-zero chance that a batpony might be able to do exactly that. “I remember you managed to get me to sleep one day after my father and mother…”

Trixie waited for New Moon to continue after she had trailed off. Seeing her friend at a loss for words, she resumed humming.

New Moon crumbled instantly. Retreating from the mutual embrace between Trixie and herself, she sat down on her haunches, hanging her head down so low it almost touched the floor. “My father’s dead.”

Trixie felt as if she had been slapped. “No,” She whispered, finding herself unbelieving of New Moon’s words, even as memories of the batpony stallion who had hosted her during her brief attendance of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns rushed to the forefront.

Cognito, better known as ‘Cogs’, had been Trixie’s uncle in a tenuous sense, much like New Moon had been Trixie’s cousin. He and Wooden Chisel, Trixie’s father, had shared a common origin: Changelings that had left their hive and struck out, forging lives in Equestria. Each had fallen for a mare, who had in turn fallen for a stallion, in spite of knowing the true species of their respective husband-to-be. 

Cogs had been fairly eccentric, taking the form of a batpony and joining the Royal Guard of Canterlot all so he could woo a batpony mare. It had worked, and New Moon had been the product of their coupling. Trixie recalled Cognito with some fondness. Whereas her own father had made carving, chiselling and sculpting his career, a welcome hand for the many farmers less than handy at repairing wheels and skis alike, Cogs had made tinkering with clockworks his hobby. 

“Yes,” New Moon continued to hang her head, unwilling to face the world at large.

“What was it?” Trixie delicately asked, suspecting there was far more to this story. “Did he die on active service?”

New Moon shook her head, “If only, especially after all the effort he went through upon enlisting to make sure the standard detection spells wouldn’t work on him. He was helping install new shingles on a friend’s house, only to trip over some shingles. He, I guess he panicked and his wings locked up.”

Trixie wanted to stop her cousin right there, but New Moon continued, sounding far too detached for Trixie’s liking. “He, there was a section of a gate that was to be replaced, and someone had left the new section right where he fell off, spikes faced up. It punctured his specular gland.”

Trixie’s eyes widened in horror. “Oh. Oh.

The unicorn didn’t know too much about Changeling biology, but the two biggest things that differentiated them from their more dominant equine cousins were fairly obvious: their capacity for transformations, and their ability to feed on emotions, primarily love, and use them as a source of energy. Although harvesting of energy was a magical trait of the Changelings (and thus had been passed down to Trixie and New Moon alike), it was an organ unique to Changelings that was the seat of their transformation abilities, and retained most of the emotional energy Changelings gathered.

If the specular gland was badly damaged or destroyed, an active transformation would disperse, and the Changeling would no longer be able to use the talent his species was named after. With most of his love energy gone, Cogs would have been unable to even use it for a healing spell.

Trixie could see the scene playing out in her head even now. Cognito the batpony had been impaled in the exact wrong spot, unveiling Cognito the Changeling in a perverse mirror of her own father’s situation. With most of his power gone and in shock from trauma, there was no way Cogs could have recovered. Trixie had enough tact to not ask if he had died instantly without suffering. She had to discipline her wayward thoughts from wandering down a tangent on if he didn’t.

Instead, she changed the subject, “Then, why are you here, in Whinnychester that is?”

New Moon sighed. “I wish we had continued to trade letters once we grew up. I should have once I heard what happened to your father.” Seeing Trixie blink rapidly in surprise, the batpony explained further, “I joined the Royal Guard, just like father. When we heard about a Changeling being discovered out here, he investigated and found out a Changeling had ‘replaced’ Wooden Chisel.”

“Oh,” Was all Trixie could muster, feeling as if she had swallowed whole rocks and they had settled at the bottom of her stomach, a feat she had only thought members of the Pie family capable of. “You are a guardspony?”

“Was, and yes, we heard about your little ‘incident’ in Ponyville,” New Moon said, and then looked away. Trixie’s heart went out for her even as she blushed slightly at the reminder of her two encounters in Ponyville. The look on New Moon’s face was so forlorn, if she didn’t already feel sad for the other pony she would now. “When a Changeling is discovered to have ‘infiltrated’ the ranks, the military investigators work fast. They ordered me to report to my commanding officer to explain how I didn’t notice that my own father had been replaced by a Changeling. Mother told me to flee.”

“Wait, what?” Trixie stopped New Moon there, “Why? I thought you and I were virtually indistinguishable from any regular pony?”

New Moon turned back, grimacing. “You haven’t been to Canterlot in ages, have you? Since the Changeling invasion during Princess Mi Amore Cadenza’s wedding, there’s always been paranoia stirring underneath the surface. Working the day shift wasn’t too bad, but ponies were getting really jump at night. It was finally beginning to settle down, but a Changeling dying in public has created an, an almost-panic. Mother, mother told me to leave to avoid the blowback, that it was a better solution than being tried.”

Two separate lines of questioning burned in Trixie, but she decided to ask about her aunt first, “What about your mother? Did Frigor flee as well?”

New Moon shook her head and said, “If Canterlot discovers she married a Changeling willingly and harboured him even after the edict following the invasion requiring ponies to report any suspected or known Changelings, she’ll be shunned, but she legally can’t be touched. We checked, spousal privilege overrides the edict, I think whoever wrote it never even thought a pony would marry a Changeling. Me, me however, I don’t get benefits for being a daughter, and it’s worse since I have a higher duty as a Royal Guard, especially if they think I helped father devise a way to counteract the Guards’ detection spell. I would’ve been locked away for at least a decade for certain.”

That was when Trixie at last realised what had been tickling her mind incessantly. “Moonie,” She slowly asked, finally remembering the pet name she had given her cousin so long ago, “Exactly how long have you been flying for?”

The batpony mare forced a smile, and Trixie finally took note of the little details: the dirt that caked New Moon’s grey fur, the bloodshot whites of her eyes, even the stench of sweat that clung to her that Trixie had so far been able to ignore. “Since late morning yesterday,” She said, and now Trixie could even hear that her words were pained, the other pony no doubt being extremely sore from her long flight.

Trixie narrowed her eyes, “Yeah, no. Unless you led the Royal Guard here, I’m drawing you a bath right now. A nice, warm bath, and then we’ll decide what to do from here. Here, come with me.”

New Moon’s ears perked up at the mentions of a warm bath. “That *gasp* sounds amazing,” She said, letting out a squeak of pain as she got up from her sitting position and put pressure on her back hooves again to trot after Trixie.


“So,” Trixie began talking as New Moon started shampooing her dark-grey mane, “Why here, exactly? Why Whinnychester? Why not some other town?” With a quick glow of her horn, she re-heated the water in the tub. When the house had been built, a large bathtub had been one of her mother’s few demands of her father, which he had complied with. As all three were unicorns, filling it up with water and keeping it heated hadn’t been issues, but Trixie found it excessively large, several pony-lengths in length and width preferring to use the smaller upstairs bath. In this case, however, she felt it a necessity to pamper New Moon. With the amount of dirt that had clung to the batpony, it was already on its second run of water.

“I-it was what mother suggested,” New Moon said. “She didn’t know very many other Changelings, father didn’t introduce many to her. We went through the list, but all the ones we knew of lived in larger cities, too risky to hide out there. Your, Wooden Chisel isn’t around anymore, but you at least knew what he was, and you lived with us when you were younger.” She winced as she encountered a particularly vicious knot in her mane, attempting to untangle it, “It was either here or taking refuge in the Badlands.”

Trixie mirrored her wince at the mention of the Badlands, and said, “Yes, I can empathise with that. Then, what? Do you intend to stay here? I don’t mind, I have more than enough room. You can stay as long as you want, I’m certain there’ll be work out on the fields if you want it.”

“No!” New Moon hissed, before her eyes widened, “I mean, sorry, but I can’t! Look at me Trixie,” She brought a hoof up to her chest for empashis, “I’m a batpony! It’s not like we’re a common sight in Equestria! All the Guard needs to do is release a Wanted notice saying they’re looking for a batpony female, anypony worth their salt will connect the timing with my appearance in town!” She seemed frantic again, and Trixie needed to find a way to calm her down.

“I wouldn’t worry too much,” Trixie said, “Don’t most Wanted posters come with pictures and descriptions? Most ponies can’t even tell two batponies apart, all we need is some mane and fur dye and they’d be clueless.” Even as she said that, she attempted to backtrack, realising just how offensive that had been, “I mean-“

“I know what you mean, and I forgive you, tact never was your strongest subject,” New Moon said bitingly, “But have you forgotten, Trixie? Have you forgotten about my Cutie Mark?”

What was that about her Cutie Mark? Trixie hadn’t even paid attention to her cousin’s flanks since she had arrived, more concerned with catching up, and then drawing her a warm bath and supplying the myriad toiletries she had on-hand. Eyes wandering, she looked over to remind herself of what New Moon’s Cutie Mark had been.

There was none.

Oh. Oh.

“Now you remember?” New Moon asked bitterly, “I’m one of those albinos.”

“Y-yeah,” Trixie said, sitting back down in a daze. “I, I completely forgot about it. Even in all my travels I haven’t met another pony suf-, er who has it.”

“You can say I’m suffering from it,” said New Moon, who had sat down on her plot, holding her rear legs in close to her torso, head just poking out above her knees. “I grew a thick skin, y’know? It’s nowhere near as bad these days, the Guards are professionals after all.”

Trixie wrinkled her nose. She wanted to offer comforting words to the other pony, but couldn’t find any. Cutie Mark Albinoism was a rare condition, but it was a real one. Occasionally, a pony would gain her Cutie Mark, only for the Cutie Mark to be ‘invisible’, of a concept that was specifically a non-visible representation. 

As a filly, New Moon had loved gazing out at the night sky. She had especially loved the nights around the new moon period, where the lack of solar reflection let the stars shine brightest. It had been unfortunate for her that instead of getting a Cutie Mark of the night sky, she had gotten one of the new moon.

A batpony might’ve been able to hide out in Whinnychester for a long time. A batpony without a Cutie Mare would’ve been noticed within days. Whoever issued the ponies of interest notices would not be so foolish as to leave out New Moon’s most discriminating trait.

Trixie wracked her brain for a solution. For once that night, she didn’t find herself at a loss for one. “I know what we can do.”

“Huh?” New Moon asked, looking up from her fetal position, “You do?”

“Yes!” Trixie declared giddily, standing up on all four hooves, and suddenly she was in the bathtub along with New Moon.

New Moon yelped, staggering backwards in an awkward manner, kicking up drops of water everywhere, “Hey, warn me when you do that! This bathtub might be big but we’re not fillies anym-wait a minute, you can-“

“Can teleport, yes I can,” Trixie verified, her horn pink to pick up a brush, using it to work her way through New Moon’s mane. The other mare, for her part, stopped fidgeting after a few seconds as she remembered how the two had brushed one another’s hair when they were younger. Trixie said, “I may have spent over two years in Whinnychester without ever leaving, but that doesn’t mean I’ve done nothing! For every drop of sweat I’ve left behind on the fields there’s, there’s been this thing inside me, pushing me to improve myself, not fanatically to the exclusion of all else, but with zeal. I like to gaze at the night sky, just like you do! I like to read!”

“But above all else, magic! Somewhere along the way I came to detest my own magic, seeing it as a tool and nothing more, even allowing myself to get conned into using an artifact to further my power for revenge. Somehow, someway, my love for magic has reignited itself,” Trixie said.

New Moon’s spirits had been clearly uplifted by Trixie’s impassioned speech, as she was back up on all fours again, “What can you do?” She excitedly asked, amber eyes positively glowing with an inner fire.

“Illusions,” Trixie replied. “It’s nowhere near as perfect as what our fathers could do. It won’t physically change a thing, so I wouldn’t dare change your species, or even your height or weight, but the colour of your fur and giving you an actual visible Cutie Mark should be enough.”

New Moon’s eyes widened, “You can do that?”

Trixie nodded, “Yes,” She said. “Not right away, however. You need to explain to me how these detection spells the Guards have works as best you understand it. It may take me a few days to reverse-engineer it to revise my illusion cantrip to beat them.” Her eyes narrowed, “The only real problem is I’ll have to renew the spell’s magic every night.”

“Huh? Why?”

“You weren’t born a unicorn,” Trixie said. “You may have magic inherited from your father, but not the right kind in sufficient amounts that I can anchor it to your own body’s internal magic. I can tell you haven’t trained your spell manipulation very much.”

“Oh. Ah,” New Moon said with dawning understanding, sitting back down. “You’re right about that, though. No horn makes it difficult for me, and I never saw much of a point to it when my wings were always enough.” She began to muse, not even noticing as the brush that was still in Trixie’s magical grip moved down to her tail, untangling still more knots. After a few minutes, she spoke again, “But wouldn’t there be a danger of the spell running out of magic during the day?”

“Not really,” Trixie admitted. “For you, it should last at least a few days. Renewing it nightly is just me being paranoid. I don’t want to risk what happened to our fathers occurring to you as well.”

Instantly, the unicorn knew she had said the wrong thing, because New Moon froze up, mouth stuck open, amber eyes watering. As fillies, they had had more emotional temperaments, and so Trixie fell back on the tried-and-true offensive mechanism. “Hey, you,” She whispered to New Moon, striding forward in the tub, “Come here.” The batpony was skittish and whimpered, but relented under the strong grip of Trixie’s strong forehooves, her tension washing away in the warm water and the warmer hug. “Let it all out, Moonie. You’ve been flying for nearly a day, haven’t you? It’s alright, Trixie’s here.”

New Moon met her eyes, and Trixie met them back with an expression that told her she was safe here. There was nothing, and Trixie worried that in the face of her father’s death New Moon had retreated inside so deep she wouldn’t dare poke her head out again, and then…


The batpony buried her head in Trixie’s shoulder, her body trembling with great, wracking coughs and sobs. Trixie just sat there, waiting it out as a good friend, cousin, neigh, sister would do.


Hours later, Trixie found herself curled up along with New Moon next to the fireplace, heavy curtains in place over all the windows to block out the morning light. It was fortunate it was the middle of the autumn season – by now, her presence wasn’t a requirement at the farms, and she could stay indoors harbouring an unknown pony with nobody the wiser. Having toweled both herself and New Moon off, she had marched the other mare downstairs. Stoking a roaring fire to life had always given Trixie a feeling of safety, and she knew it was the same for the now ex-Royal Guard. It had been mere hours since the two had met once more, but Trixie knew her presence was now a security blanket for her rediscovered sister.

Then, New Moon spoke.


“Hmm? What’s that?”

“The name I’ll go by when outside of this house.”

“…I see. Is there any reason for that name?”

“It’s…My father once told me that if him and mother had had another foal, that’s what they would’ve named her. It’s…his death mean it’s no longer possible, but, but I’ll take that name up in his stead. I don’t know what I’m going to do now, but at least, at least I’ll be able to give that name a life, no matter how pitiful it is.”

Trixie said nothing to that, letting the room lapse into silence but for the crackling of the flames. Several minutes later, she looked over to New Moon to talk again. The batpony was asleep.

Trixie let herself smile. A wave of exhaustion suddenly passed over her. If she hadn’t already been laying down on the floor it would’ve staggered her. It wasn’t a physical exhaustion borne of staying up for too long: it was an emotional exhaustion, from hearing of the death of somepony she considered her uncle, and hearing the words from the mouth of somepony Trixie now realised she had, did consider a sister. Trixie remembered how the death of her own mother, and later her father had affected her. She pitied New Moon.

The unicorn laid her head down, resting it in the crook of New Moon’s neck. Within minutes, both ponies, each born of Changeling and pony, were sound asleep.

The big struggle with writing this was in the latter half of the chapter. As you'll see as the story continues, Phantasmare is littered with O.C.s As a result, I have to do a better job of developing their characters and the way they relate to each other and Trixie. One of the key advantages of writing fanfiction with canon characters is an author can be lazy and assume the audience already mostly understands pre-existing dynamics and relationships from the source material. With an O.C., an author loses that advantage. Thus, I have to write New Moon and flesh her out. To the extent of Trixie and New Moon's relationship, I attempt to write them as having a platonic love that lasted even after years apart, and allows the two even as grown-ups to get up close and personal without feeling too awkward about it, while staying away from giving any sexual vibes.

On that note, I do worry a little bit about New Moon, given that she could be seen as a 'bad O.C.' between her being a batpony and the whole Cutie Mark albinoism thing. I can't really say more than that my belief is bad O.C.'s come from more than just character traits that make them 'cool' or 'unique', and more from lack of or bad character development (which is what makes an 'only performer of the Sonic Rainboom' and 'super-powerful personal student of the Princess' interesting character we all know and love). New Moon will definitely be getting further character development.

New Moon's flight path may seem a little weird, given that she flies for three quarters of a day (late morning > early morning when Trixie is setting up her telescope) to get from Canterlot to Whinnychester, and I've said in the original story it took Trixie about two days on hoof from Ponyville to Whinnychester. If that bothers you, you can just assume New Moon took some breaks here and there or whatever, or that she walked at times to avoid being seen overhead by others in a straight line from Canterlot to Whinnychester.

Free internet cookie to whoever guesses the naming theme of New Moon's father, mother, and the new name she's taking.


Well-Known Member
'New Moon: Dead Moon'

Winter was coming. The sun was steadily being raised later in the day and lowered earlier in the morning to cool Equestria down in time for the planned seasonal snowfall. Soon, the Longest Night festival would be held on the winter solstice, and shortly after the passage of another year would be marked.

Trixie had occasionally wondered why Equestria even bothered with winter when a year-round moderate climate could instead be established. When she had first asked this during her short stay at the School for Gifted Unicorns, she had learned that the seasons had naturally propagated on an annual cycle once upon a time, before the Windigos destroyed the balance of Harmony. The biological functions of every living being still relied on there being a low ebb of the year. It hadn’t been until Trixie grew up and learned to appreciate the short winter days where she could be lazy, and both fall asleep and rise to the pale moonlight of the night sky.

Whinnychester, a town that relied on wheat, perfectly emulated the passage of the seasons. During the summer time most of its ponies were up all day, moving and bustling with chores and work. As autumn swept through the land, harvest season started, before ponies finally began to settle in for the winter. A peaceful somnolence settled into the population during winter as only the most tireless of its residents continued to whittle away at projects through the winter. During the slow pace of life set by winter’s heart, Trixie had taken to going through the magical curriculum she had once been enrolled in but lost out on due to terrible coincidence.

However, wandering out into the local marketplace for groceries this year was a different manner than the last season of rest.

“Oh? Who is your new friend, Bella?” 

Green Leaf was a reasonably well-traveled pony, but Trixie doubted even she had seen a batpony before. It had been to the credit of the townsponies that most of the adults had barely blinked at New Moon’s appearance. The fillies and colts, on the other hoof, had been rather rambunctious.

“This is Australe,” Trixie introduced her, “She’s from Baltimare. Mother and father met her parents back when he was peddling some of his finer works in the big city, and we occasionally visited them over the years.”

“Good to meet you then, Australe,” Green Leaf held a hoof out. New Moon didn’t hesitate to shake it, intent on blending in with the town. “So what brings you out here to Whinnychester, then? It’s not as if we have much for tourist traps here.”

New Moon blinked, surprised at Green Leaf’s bluntness, but shrugged it off as she answered, “Getting away from the bustle of the big city, mostly. Too much light pollution at night, too. Trixie wrote me that there was plenty of work here if I wanted it. Maybe not so much at this time of year, but I have a deft hoof for mechanical work. I figured there would be more than a few machines that could use finetuning here.”

Green Leaf chuckled, and she said, “You would be correct at that. I know Winter Wheat needs work done on his combines and he’s bemoaned their complexity to me on several occasions. If you can fix them up, you’ll have a job list longer than your wingspan in no time.”

“There aren’t that many lights here, either,” Trixie said. “Mostly the main street leading through town and the plaza have lamps. I doubt I would be able to do my stargazing in Baltimare.”

“I’m surprised you even went to school in the City of Light, then,” Green Leaf remarked, scratching out some numbers on a notepad. From her sideway view, it appeared to Trixie to be a ledger.

Trixie took a second to understand what Green Leaf had said, before remembering what one of the famous appellative titles for Canterlot was. “The School for Gifted Unicorns was the premiere institution for magic,” Trixie said, “But in the end, it just wasn’t for me.” The lie lingered on her tongue like the filthy taste of dirt.

“Er, if I may?” New Moon interjected, rifling through the several carts of produce Green Leaf had set up, “You wouldn’t happen to carry peppers, would you?”

Green Leaf shook her head, “Afraid not, dearie. I can bring them in on special order for my next shipment, but that’ll be extra.”

“You did like your food spicy, didn’t you Australe?” Trixie mused aloud upon seeing the forlorn expression on New Moon’s face. “I recall nearly burning my tongue on your father’s chili on more than one occasion.”

“We always had milk and bread available,” New Moon said.

“It took me some time to get used to that diet, you know. I think I get acid reflux just thinking about some of the dishes that were served.

“Oh, quit being a big filly."

“Says the pony who didn’t eat half her greens because they tasted too bitter.”

Green Leaf’s head darted back and forth between the two, following the trade of biting remarks. The Earth pony didn’t know if she should intervene, unsure if they were barbed comments or if it was two friends teasing one another. Suddenly, she saw a spot to intervene, “So, would you like to make a special order then, Australe?”

New Moon jumped slightly at the use of her assumed name, and turned around, her cheeks slightly colouring. “Er, um, let me think,” She said, hemming and hawing for a few seconds before making her mind, “Yes, erm, some Jalapeno peppers, and some Celeste peppers too. You have beans here already, good, let’s see…” She rattled off a few more items for the list along with the general mass of each item to order in, Green Leaf steadfastly writing the list down in a second notepad. “Also, I don’t know if there’s that stereotype out all the way here but no, I don’t like mango.”


“Ah, so you don’t know. Supposedly all batponies love mangoes, I don’t.”

“Ah,” Comprehension dawned on Green Leaf’s face. Tabulating the items she had written down, she quoted a price. New Moon didn’t blink. It was well within her budget, and while she needed to be seen out and about, she didn’t want to attract too much scrutiny, so attempting to haggle was out of the question for her. “Well then, I’ll be sending off my orders in a few days, so your order will be here next week. If you don’t pick it up, then you’ll have to pay off the cost before I allow you to make a special order again.”

Trixie did a look-over of New Moon’s body. She had been doing that a lot over the past few days. Wait, what did I just think? Trixie could feel her cheeks burning in self-induced embarrassment as her train of thought threatened to slip off the tracks, before she finally righted it back on course.

A few nights before, Trixie had finished her illusionary spell, using what fragments of information New Moon knew about the Changeling detection spell that had been devised in the last few years to revise it. Laying it over New Moon’s form, she had changed the batpony’s colours, slate grey fur to a more distinctive marble blue with a darker blue mane and tail. While her amber eyes had merely gained a few shades of brown, the biggest difference to New Moon was the crescent moon Cutie Mark on both her hind legs.

That had been the trickiest part of all for Trixie. Cutie Marks were part of a pony’s identity, even invisible ones. It was possible to give unmarked foals gag Cutie Marks, but the magic wouldn’t last long. Trixie had always had an eye for the field of illusions, the spell matrixes being as intuitive to her as telekinesis was to most other ponies, but even she wasn’t entirely sure if she could overlay a fake Cutie Mark on top of a real one, even if it was just a visual deception.

It had worked, but Trixie was constantly expecting it to fail. The paranoia she had developed from years of travelling by herself had made a resurgence. So far, however, the spell of her own creation seemed to be working. But it could still fail at any time. Trixie needed to find a way to make it more permanent, but all the reading of books into the wee hours of the morning, all the baths spent in darkness, all the incense she had breathed in over the last few days had failed to give Trixie insight and inspiration. Only the remoteness of Whinnychester and the low chance of exposure of New Moon's identity gave Trixie breathing room.

“Trixie? Hellloo, Trixie?” A hoof waved in front of her eyes.

Trixie blinked, “Huh, wha-oh sorry, I was just thinking and lost focus, sorry,” She said to New Moon. Turning her attention around to a giggling sound, she gave Green Leaf a light-hearted frown, “Sorry, what did I miss?”

“Your friend making a special order for fruits and vegetables,” said Green Leaf. “Did you want anything yourself?”

Trixie pursed her lips. Unfortunately, pinecones were a delicacy in this area of the world, and much of her budget was already reserved for the numerous books and artifacts she was ordering in. “No thanks,” She said, browsing over the carts full of produce that were currently on display. “But I think I will take, let’s see, some tomatoes, some of the lettuce, hmm, a bag of sugar…”


Winter Wheat was one of the older stallions in the village. Between him and his wife Canola Oil they maintained one of the largest plots around, helped out by those who remained in Whinnychester of the baker’s dozen of children they had raised. Despite the couple’s prodigal loins, not one member of the family was particularly talented with the machines they used for their day-to-day work.

New Moon, or Australe as she had introduced herself to Winter Wheat, had had a father who tinkered with clockworks so much he had gone by the nickname of Cogs. She had fully inherited his own capabilities around machinery.

“The oil on the seal for this bearing is worn out,” She called out from underneath one of the combines that had just been put away for the winter. “The oil tastes a little metallic, you may be getting early corrosion of the metal. I don’t know how often you replace them, but I would recommend a new bearing before using next summer.”

Upon Trixie introducing the two to one another, Winter Wheat put New Moon on the spot by inviting her in to the large shed that held most of the equipment that had been stored away for the winter, getting her to assess the first piece of equipment on his to-do list. Trixie followed close behind with a pen and paper held in her telekinetic grip, furiously jotting down the various condition reports New Moon was shouting out.

“How is the wheel?” Winter Wheat asked.

New Moon paused, before she finally came back out from underneath the machine. Dirt and grease splotched her face and torso in a spectrum of browns. She said, “It looks in good condition, no cracks and no sign of rot. I would recommend you switch to rubber wheels, preferably air-filled over solid. For your fields they’ll be far superior to wood.”

“It’s a little bit difficult to get rubber wheels this far out,” Winter Wheat said, but his voice was of begrudging acceptance. 

Trixie smiled as the two other ponies continued to talk to one another, and she continued to write down notes. Perhaps it would be even easier to integrate New Moon into Whinnychester than she had thought.

She briefly frowned as her mind betrayed her and went down a darker path. This couldn’t last, however. Trixie wasn’t entirely certain if the Equestrian military was even pursuing New Moon. A lowly private wasn’t that important, even if her father had in fact been a Changeling and a little higher up in the hierarchy of Canterlot’s Guards.

But there was too much chance for something to go wrong. Equestria was slow with paperwork, but the taxponies that came out every year were ruthless with their scrutiny. All that was required was one slip-up in New Moon’s paperwork and her lack of documents, and she was sure to be found out. From there, the dominos could fall. Or perhaps Trixie’s illusion spell might run out in the middle of the day. Or perhaps, or perhaps.

And so long as Trixie stayed rooted to Whinnychester, New Moon couldn’t move on either, unable to renew the illusion spell herself. Trixie was beginning to despair that there was any way this could end well.

No! Trixie scolded herself, shaking her head and writing down more notes, having thankfully trailed off during a lull in New Moon and Winter Wheat’s conversation, There is a solution to this. I just have to find it!


Her heart beat, pumping blood through her body, the incoming pressure pushing deoxygenated blood back towards her chest. Her mana channels also branched out from the heart, twisting and turning around arteries and veins alike, intermingling to deliver power to every cell of her body. Power leaked from her, escaping every follicle and gland of her body. Power was pumped into her, the artifact above her heart acting as a conduit between her and the world.

It wasn’t enough, she knew. It was never enough. She had humiliated and then exiled the unicorn that had once shown her up, and then trapped the site of her downfall under a giant dome, but she wasn’t content. She knew she was destined for something bigger, something greater. She was Great. She was Powerful.

This small town that had once scorned her and brought her low was merely her first conquest. Every pony who had scorned her from this two-bit hamlet had already been punished for their mockery, and the one who had humiliated her most of all had been exiled, never allowed to set hoof in this village again. The creation of a dome had made certain of that.

Yet with Power had come Clarity, her view of the world hyper-focused through a soft red. Past the red clouds and red plains there was a castle sitting upon a lone mountain peak that stretched towards the heavens, almost as Great and Powerful as she was. Two sisters ruled there, each bearing untold secrets of ages long past. She would march on the heavens and take the secrets they held, and unleash a new age. The old institutions would be purified in fire as three thousand years of history would fall in a single night, and all would come to know her as their Queen.

The commonwealth of equines was only one part of the land, however. As the ponies fell into line under her rule, she would take over the griffons, and the minotaur, the buffalo, the zebra, the deer, and more. Then her eyes would look across the great sea. Oh yes, the world would be hers, and with every new conquest that crossed her gaze, her heart thumped with excitement, and the amulet pulsed red over her heart.

Trixie opened her eyes.


Trixie opened her eyes.

It took her a few seconds to reacquaint herself with the ceiling of her room. Once she recognised her familiar surroundings, Trixie focused on her twitchy upper body. Her head was shaking uncontrollably and the muscles of her neck were seized up. That was when Trixie realised she was unable to move.

Her hooves were like iron, unwilling to be lifted from their prone position. The amu-no, one hoof was laid over top her chest. It was like a weight had been dropped onto her barrel. Trixie panicked as she began to suffocate under the iron hoof. Her heart beat faster and faster, each individual pulse melding together in a hammering thump reminding her of the childhood monster under the bed. Trixie opened her mouth to scream. All that came out was a silent whimper. She was going to die here.

The moment suddenly passed, and Trixie’s body rolled over, and she fell off her bed.

“Oof!” Trixie cried out as she hit the floor, the brief jolt of pain from impact finally freeing her locked-up muscles. It took a few seconds to realise what had just occurred. Sleep paralysis. She had been suffering from sleep paralysis, and it had gotten the best of her.

Trixie wondered why she panicked. Then memories from the nightmare came rushing to the forefront. “Oh. Oh,” She said aloud to herself, finding little comfort in her own voice. “That…that was terrifying.” Trixie shivered at the terrifying memories, as she desperately tried to will them away, blinking through a stinging eye. With a start, she realised there was more to her shivers than that. Lifting one of her front hooves up, she brushed the fur of her forehead. Her hoof came away slick with sweat.

The unicorn mare shuddered. There was no way she was going to go back to sleep again in this condition. One nightmare had been enough for the night.

Her horn flared. In the darkness of her room with only a sliver of moonlight washing through, the luminescent glow of her magic was the dominant source of light. Ever since the incident, Trixie would always have a split-second of terror that her magic would come out the ruby-red of the Alicorn Amulet. She let out a relieved breath as instead a warm violet light washed over her surroundings. A similar violet glow cloaked her spare dry blanket as she picked it up, and started to walk down stairs, down to the living area where her fireplace was.

Trixie’s ears perked up with interest as she saw New Moon sitting next to the fireplace, having apparently already stoked a fire.

New Moon turned her head around as well. “Couldn’t sleep as well?” She asked in a mumble. Trixie noted that the lids of her eyes were half-closed, a clear sign of sleep issues in the batpony.

“I got to sleep, but had a bad nightmare,” Trixie admitted. “Do you want to talk about it?”

New Moon didn’t respond. Trixie took the initiative to sit down beside her, wrapping the large blanket she had brought down with her around the two of them.

The room was silent for a few minutes but for the crackling of the flame. Trixie fidgeted, not used to being so quiet in the company of another, and was the first to break the mutual peace. “How much did you hear about the Alicorn Amulet and I?” She asked New Moon.

That at least seemed a subject New Moon was willing to broach, “We were not sure how much of it was rumour and how much was fact, the Princesses were mum about it. What we did hear was that you came into possession of a dark artifact that possessed you and made you take over Ponyville for two days.”

Trixie swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. If she had been possessed, Trixie would have probably been worse off than she was from the massive violation of self she would have undergone. However, at least it would have given her leeway in the court of public opinion. She found herself afraid of confessing the truth.

Then the nightmare came back, and Trixie steeled herself. She had no other friends or family she could pour her heart out to, and the mare felt that that was exactly what was required right now.

“That’s, that’s not actually t-true, er, the possession part that is, at least partly that is,” Trixie said, stumbling over her words. “I, I chose to put it on. The Amulet gave me power and it gave me skill, but all, all it did was remove my inhibitions.” She gulped, desperately wishing for a glass of water to wet her tongue and throat, but continued, “At least, I think so. It might’ve pushed me over, but a great part of it was me.”

Her words caught New Moon’s attention, who looked over, peering into Trixie’s eyes as if looking for a greater inner truth. “What was it like, then? Wearing the amulet, that is?” New Moon clarified.

Trixie took a few moments to collect her thoughts. She said, “Even before I put it on, I think it had already influenced me. I went to the shop with money in hoof, but when I spotted it, I think I was going to steal it.” She swallowed, and continued, “The shopkeeper interrupted and prevented me from running off with it, so I purchased it with bits. I should have known then that something was up, but I didn’t listen. Then I put it on. It was like I was looking at the world through a lens, like when you try to peer into water, and the Amulet gave me clear vision for the first time.” 

Trixie didn’t mention that it was through red-tinged eyes.

New Moon sat in silent. It wasn’t the silence where she was busy contemplating what Trixie had told her. It was the silence where she was urging her to continue, knowing there was much more to the story still.

“It gave me a strength I never possessed before. In all the show acts I had performed before, I called myself ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie’, but I had just been fooling myself.  The Amulet made me feel great, truly great for the first time. But I ended up like a filly in a candy store. Spells that I only knew in theory, unable to ever pull them off in practice, suddenly I was able to fling them around with ease. But with every spell I cast, I was losing the morals that they instilled in us from the first day of school. If I hadn’t been stopped when I was, I don’t know how far I would have gone. I don’t even know if the Princesses would have been able to subdue me.”

That got New Moon’s attention, “That powerful?” She asked, letting out a quick whistle. “I don’t know about Princess Luna, but Princess Celestia was defeated at the Royal Wedding by Queen Chrysalis a few years ago, and you and I know how little a single unicorn’s love should be able to go.”

Trixie wasn’t so certain of that. Shining Armor may have been a single unicorn, but he had been promoted to Captain of the Royal Guard at a young age. He may have been dating Princess Cadance at the time, but she doubted he had gotten the job solely on nepotism. He would have had to have some degree of talent and trained skill to get in.

She shoved those thoughts aside, continuing on, “Yes, that powerful. It was an insidious artifact, but all it did was give me the power I never even dreamed of obtaining. In turn, it left me with nightmares.” Trixie shivered again as the nightmare she had just had crept up on her. “Since I found out my father died, I’ve never actually left this place, you know? I’ve tried, I’ve sincerely tried, but I don’t even trust myself if I were to leave not to wreck the world again somehow. I don’t know how much of it is from whatever taint the Amulet left behind, but I know some of it is.”

“It haunts me still.”

New Moon was quiet again, but this time she was contemplative. Trixie turned her head back towards the fire. There was one piece of imagery that stuck out to her from her nightmare, of being purified in fire. Not actually being on fire no thank you, Trixie thought to herself, but merely looking into the dancing yellows and oranges of the fire uplifted her spirits. Fire was something of spontaneity, of change. It could be a new beginning, just like the embodiment of fire itself, a phoenix.

“I should’ve come to visit you earlier, you know.”

Trixie craned her head around to look back at New Moon.

“When my father first heard about a Changeling being found in Whinnychester, he got a copy of the report. When he found out it was your own father that had supposedly gone missing, he realised what occurred right away and told me. We should’ve come to provide support. I’m so sorry, Trixie. Did they bury him at least?”

Trixie shook her head. She could feel tears staining her cheeks, but managed to say, “No. It was his wish he be buried next to my mother. The guards burned his body instead and disposed of the ashes in the river.”

“I don’t know what happened to my father’s body,” New Moon said. “My mother has some connections. She might have been able to get his body treated according to batpony tradition.” She sighed, “I don’t even know if I’ll be able to return to Canterlot, ever.”

“Tell me about him,” Trixie said. She knew New Moon needed a shoulder to cry on, and being able to talk about some of the memories of her father would be as good a therapy as any in this situation.

New Moon wrinkled her nose, before she started talking, “He came from the Badlands hive, just like your own father. Well, you know that much. He went around as a regular pegasus in those days, starting off in Dodge Junction and slowly drifting north as he picked up on pony customs and managed to fit in better over time. Eventually, he made his way to Canterlot, where he worked in a shop repairing clocks. That’s where he met mother.”

“She was from one of the Prench islands, wasn’t she?” Trixie asked.

New Moon nodded, “That’s right, Marequelon. It was a small community with not much for jobs, so she followed its motto ‘A Mare Labor’ and migrated to Equestria for work. Dad met her in his pegasus form and the two dated for a bit, then when he revealed his true form she didn’t reject him. It actually worked for the better, anyways. There was, still is anxiety in the batpony community about outsiders.” She whinnied in an obvious mocking snort, “They’re worried about us being subsumed into the general pegasus population, and they’ll shun any batpony who dates outside the clan.”

“So he took a new form for the sole benefit of your mother, then?” Trixie deduced.

“Not just for her, no. He managed to ingratiate himself with the batponies as well by virtue of simply being the same tribe. Half of them don’t even care a whit about cultural similarities so long as you have furred wings.” New Moon snorted for the second time in as many minutes, “I suppose I should be grateful, though. Some of them have had families there dating back several centuries, so if they were like some of the regular nobles my parents and I would have been looked upon for being outsiders, new blood. Instead, they got mom and dad jobs. They got dad through background checks somehow, how I don’t know but they did. Obviously he couldn’t use his past jobs as references considering his new form.”

“Oh?” Trixie asked, curious. “What was his ‘backstory’ then, so to speak?” Trixie’s own father, Wooden Chisel, had regaled her with stories of the hive, but then he had drilled her on his ‘past’, the story of his childhood as a pony to use if anyone ever asked.

“He claimed to have been a childhood friend of mom’s who followed after her by about a year. It took a couple of trips to the islands and a lot of practice with the Prench language to pull it off, but he did. They figured it was an easier way to keep a cover story straight when there’s few people who have been to the islands, and if someone were to every question his language skills he could excuse it as having little opportunity to use Prench on a daily basis in Equestria. And so he joined the Royal Guard, and with his experience in the shop he took to tinkering with clockworks as his main hobby.”

“Then they had you,” Trixie said.

New Moon sniffed, wiping a tear from her face. The batpony mare had thus far been fairly engaging, and Trixie hoped she could keep it that way and help New Moon work through her father’s death.

“Yeah, and then they had me. Mom said something about how dad had to take time off when I was born, not just because of course he had to, I was just born, but because her joy that first day filled him up with enough energy to last him weeks. She liked to reminisce a lot as I grew up, telling me stories about her own fillyhood, remembering my own antics as I grew up, even how her and dad came up with potential names for a foal before I was born. My parents named me New Moon because of course it’s something they would do, dad wanted to fit in and half of all bat ponies have night-themed names anyways,” She said, before hanging her head down, “Heh. It’s not common but some ponies will call a new moon a dead moon. Dead Moon sounds like a good name for me once I get caught. Sometimes I wish my parents named me Full Moon instead.”

Trixie jolted up at her friend’s last few lines. As she had opened her heart up to New Moon, the unicorn had thought they might be able to find relief from their woes in one another. They weren’t. If anything, they seemed to be feeding off each other’s miseries. This was bad, very bad. She needed to find something to break this mad chain and quickly.

Wait a minute, Trixie thought to herself, A dead moon? Something about that line tickled something in her memory with a fancy. She scrunched her snout in fierce concentration. The fire was an annoyance, the warm air drying out her cornea. It was as if the whole world had disappeared, leaving naught but for Trixie, the fire, and the moon hanging over her thoughts in all its forms, crescent, gibbous, new and full.

Her eyes widened, “That’s it!”

“That’s, huh?”

“That’s it!” Trixie declared a second time, suddenly jumping to her hooves, inadvertently burying New Moon deeper in the blanket. It was as if she had just received applause from the end of a performance, all the excitement and euphoria washing over her and magically super-charging her very being. Trixie felt alive again. “I’ve got it!”

“You’ve got what?”

“A way to let you move around more freely, to not have to renew your spell nightly, to make your true appearance impervious to detection! A way for me to get past the rut the Amulet has left me in! I’ve finally figured it out!”


Something I do in my writing that I don't see often in other people's writing, fiction or fanfiction, is trying to match real-world dialogue. Nobody is well-spoken all the time, and most people aren't most of the time. We'll stumble in our speech, go 'er' and 'um', repeat words and thoughts, and sometimes have odd mix-up of lines where we say something at the end of a sentence where we should at the beginning. They'll also contradict themselves. There's a lot of it in this chapter. Does this come off as a bit annoying to read to you? Feedback is appreciated.

New Moon makes a title drop in this chapter. As she explains, a Dead Moon is in fact an uncommon term sometimes used to describe a New Moon, when there's very little to no solar reflection on the moon. There's a little bit of an iffy problem with this as far as MLP is concerned, which I'll mention in next chapter's author notes.

On a side note, this arc is a pain. I originally had this chapter and the next written, then scrapped most of it because I didn't like. It's not often that I'll wipe a scene three times, but that's what I did with the Green Leaf conversation.


Well-Known Member
'New Moon: Noire'

Outside of Whinnychester proper their laid hundreds of hectares managed by farmers and the occasional rancher. The further away from the town a pony got, the less attention a farmpony paid attention to a field, with fences keeping out the larger critters and a pinch of magic to prevent the smaller ones. Rodents were especially great nuisances, all too capable of chewing through wheat stalks and causing large amounts of food loss.

Trixie didn’t worry too much about this field, however. It had laid fallow during the growing season, after being exhausted the year prior. She had personally examined the area prior to make absolutely certain there was no magical contamination from a previous spell, and had asked permission from Red Fife for use of his field for a magical ritual, easily getting it.

“It’s a bit chilly out,” New Moon said from beside Trixie, holding up a flashlight with a wing. It was the only light the two had to go by. The distant stars were but little pinpricks of light in the night sky.

“You lived on top of a mountain, Moonie,” Said Trixie. “No matter how much weather manipulation goes on in Canterlot, it’s still high enough that you should be used to cool temperatures.”

“I know, I know, I was just making conversation,” New Moon whined. “Perhaps I should ask about those three watches you have on your leg. And I told you to call me Australe even in private, I don’t want you to accidentally trip up in public because you use my old name when we’re by ourselves.”

“Of course, of course Australe,” Trixie said, wrinkling her nose as some of her mane hairs brushed alongside her snout, the result of a brief gust. Using a hoof to brush it back behind her neck, she continued her trot, made a little difficult by only having three legs on the ground instead of four. In the process New Moon could see the three watches Trixie had strapped around her one front limb. “Those watches will be important later, but enough of that. Tell me, how goes work?”

The batpony mare groaned, “Awful. There was enough dust in that wagon that I swear I have hay fever with how many times I sneezed.”

“Still better than standing in front of a door for six hours doing nothing as a guard?”

“Oh yes! That monotony was the worst! Even patrolling was leagues better because at last I could move!” New Moon made to say something else, only to leave her mouth hung open. After several seconds, she snapped it shut in embarrassment, then opened it back up to speak again, “Say, isn’t this further out than you’ve ever been since I came here? I didn’t even think your whatever it is let you move this far.”

“It didn’t,” Trixie confessed. “Somehow though, I think I’ve been slowly getting better.” Trixie let that statement settle in the air, before she added, “Ever since you’ve come to town, actually.”

“Wh-I-that is-” New Moon sputtered, incapable of completing a full sentence.

Trixie laughed. With a startle, she realised they had been rare for her in the last year. New Moon’s return into her life, literally barreling her over in the process, truly had sparked a new life in Trixie, even as she had struggled to fully realise her new love for magic. If Trixie could pull tonight off, it would only be going to the debt she owed New Moon. “I’m just teasing, mind you! All the same, it gives me hope I can be out of here soon. My desire to wander has been giving me itchy hooves these last few months, especially every time you talk about the tours you’ve gone on outside of Canterlot.”

“You really don’t want to be in Whinnychester, do you?” New Moon asked in a tone that was more matter-of-fact than a question.

“It’s not that,” Trixie said, “It’s, um. I love this place. It’s where I was born, it’s where I grew up most of my life. But it’s also the place I left behind when I became a travelling performer, eager to see the world. And it’s the place where my parents died.”

“Ah.” A pause. “Sorry.”

Trixie brushed it off with a wave of her hoof, “It’s alright. I’ve had time to get over both their deaths. Time enough, in any case, to wonder if there wasn’t something else that was keeping me in Whinnychester. Ah, we’re here!”

New Moon stopped at Trixie’s announcement. She switched the flashlight from her wing to her front hooves before she took the air. From the sky, New Moon surveyed the ground below, even as Trixie walked around, checking up that her hoofwork was intact. A large white circle had been etched into the grass, perhaps thirty hoof-lengths in diametre. Further in, there was a half-circle arc, its length perhaps one third of the outer circle. In lieu of a straight line to complete the semicircle, there was a five-sided star, with the one end pointing touching at the middle point of the arc.

New Moon swooped in to meet Trixie. “Trixie wishes she could fly like you could,” Trixie said without looking up from the ground. “Heh, perhaps I could learn to self-levitate. Wouldn’t that be something!”

“So that’s why you were borrowing some of my tools,” New Moon remarked. The chalk hadn’t seemed too weird, but some of the other instruments had been fairly specialised tools built for precision measurement and drawing. “Why the circle, and the half-circle, and the star then?”

“I don’t really know, honestly,” Trixie admitted. “I mean, I could tell you that it works and the elementary magical logic behind each, but the full details would require years of in-depth studies to truly understand. But! The outer circle represents a beginning without end, an end without beginning, eternal renewal. The inner arc and the star represent the energies of the Great Mother, channeled into a focus point.”

New Moon took a second look at the layout of the ritual area, before she asked, “Why the half-circle and five-pointed star, though? I’m assuming your focus point as at the middle of the star, but don’t they ruin the symmetry?”

Trixie paused her walk around the outside circle, “If I were just drawing on ambient magical energy, perhaps. But I’m not. Remember, I’m drawing on the power of the moon.”

“But you can’t even see the moon right now!” New Moon argued, pointing at the night sky.

“Of course not,” Trixie said, raising her snout to the sky, a proud look on her face. “That’s why I had to use math and observations to get this right. Look at the star, Australe. Do you see where the middle of the half-arc is, with the one point of the star intersecting? Do you remember where the moon was last night?”

New Moon gazed over.

Suddenly, the scene of when Trixie had first suggested this ritual came rushing to the front of her head, clamoring to be remembered.



“It’s what you mentioned before. New Moon, Dead Moon, Full Moon, phases of the moon.”

“…I don’t get it.”

“Sorry, I guess it’s more obscure than I thought. A lot of powerful magic used to be conducted at night in accordance with the New Moon, the Half Moon, and the Full Moon. It’s not so common now, but it was popular a long time ago, especially in the Tribal Era when ponies still thought magic originated from the moon.”

“So you’re saying, turn the spell into a ritual on one of those nights?”

“More than that. The calendar we use is a pony invention, but even pony inventions have power. About once a year, there’ll be a month with two new moons. The new moon is all about rituals of renewal and rebirth, or in your case, being able to lead a new life. The second new moon of a month will be even more magically powerful.”

“I know at least that much, about the second new moon that is. They call it a Black Moon.”

“Yes!” Trixie at this point was practically hopping up and down, gravity the only force able to keep her from flying off in her enthusiasm. “There’s power in the Black Moon. There’s even more power in symbolism in it being a new moon, just like your name.”

“So, doing the spell as a ritual would do what, exactly?”

“Trixie needs to work out the calculations, but she believes that-“

“You’re talking in the third-pony again.”

“Trix-oh, I am, aren’t I, sorry? Trixie apologises. Oh, there I go again. Sorry, force of habit when, when I get excited, even now.”

“Accepted. What were you going to say?”

“Where was I? Oh yes, my calculations. I believe it possible the power of the ritual under the black moon will make the changes in your physical appearance permanent.”

“Permanent meaning?”

“Absolutely permanent. No detection spell on the planet will be able to pierce it. I-I’m sorry to say this, but I hope you weren’t too attached to your old looks.”

“…it’s fine.”

“Is it really?”

“Not really, no, but that’s the now. Give me a day and I know I’ll have gotten over it. For now, tell me more.”

“Well, you see, the ritual needs to take place on a black moon. Luckily, it happens only a few months from now, but it’ll be cold out…”


New Moon had gotten over it. But she still needed to make sure it would actually work.

“So you’re saying-“ New Moon cut herself off, excited as she worked out the math in her head. Trixie had been mum on the more intricate details of the ritual, but New Moon had seen that devious personality of hers at work more than a few times since they had reunited. “Are you certain you’ve perfectly calculated where the moon is right now?”

“Perfectly,” Trixie said with a nod, “We’re rather fortunate, too. Eramtrotsthenes’ Second Principle says we have a period of about fourteen seconds to do this in. If we do it too early, the magic won’t work a second time tonight, so our first, our only attempt needs to be within those fourteen seconds. I want to do it about seven seconds in, so even if I’m off by a few seconds we should still be safe.”

“If we screw this up, we won’t be able to do this again for nearly another year,” New Moon observed.

“Then let’s hope we don’t,” The unicorn mare said before she took a running start, her leap clearing her over the outer circle. “I don’t want to disturb the chalk at all, I took quite some time making this as perfect as possible,” Trixie explained before New Moon could even ask. “That this area was fenced in means no bigger animals would have messed it up, but there could have been smaller pests.”

“It looks fine to me,” New Moon said as she continued to flap her wings, directing the brunt of the flashlight’s illumination just ahead of Trixie for the other pony to continue her examination on the inner figures.

“As perfect as possible,” Trixie repeated herself.

The meadow fell into silence as New Moon had nothing to say to that. Instead, the batpony lapsed off into thought as she hovered above the ground, thinking of the possibilities that would open up were this ritual to succeed. No longer would she be confined to Whinnychester, relying on the big heart and open hooves of her fillyhood friend. She would be able to go out into the wide, open world again and do whatever she wished. The panic New Moon had allowed herself to fall into upon her father’s death would no longer trap her and bind her to this little slice of the earth. Perhaps she may even be able to meet her mother again, albeit under a permanent disguise.

But then she thought of Trixie. Trixie, who had been psychologically crippled to the point that Whinnychester’s borders seemed an insurmountable barrier for her to cross. New Moon still woke up in the night crying at the thought of her father’s sudden death, but even she hadn’t been brought as low as the other mare, who had dealt with three tragedies in the space of little over a year. What was to become of Trixie if New Moon left?

“Done,” Trixie said aloud, interrupting New Moon’s train of thought. “Can you sit in the centre here, Australe?”

New Moon wrinkled her nose. Even as she had asked Trixie to use that new name, New Moon still hadn’t even begun to internalise it. With a sigh, she lowered herself, bleeding what little altitude she had. With grace born of a life of flying, she dropped into the centre of the five-sided star, not even taking a stumble as she landed.

“Turn around to face the black moon, please.”

The batpony followed the instructions, turning around slightly. “Does it matter if I stand up or sit down?” She asked.

Trixie frowned, before looking at the three watches on her limb. “You will want to be standing up on all fours. Symmetry over as many planes as possible is desirable. We have about twenty minutes left before the moon is perfectly lined up with the star. I didn’t need to make any changes, thankfully.”

“Trixie,” New Moon spoke, “What do you plan to do if this works?”


“If this works, I’ll be leaving Whinnychester, but what about you? For all your talk of learning magic again and being able to teleport, I’ve barely seen you come out of your shell around anypony but Einkorn and myself, and him just for casual sex.”

Trixie blushed at that last comment, “This isn’t the time to talk about that.”

New Moon made to argue, but stopped. “Perhaps you’re right. But we’re going to talk about this later.”

Trixie grit her teeth, but was happy to let the conversation drop.

Time passed, and New Moon occasionally shivered when a cool breeze swept through the midnight air, robbing her of precious body heat. Trixie had insisted on no clothing, and the sanctity of the circle couldn’t be disturbed by even a simple heating spell. Only the prospect of what was coming up energised her.

At last, Trixie looked at the three watches on her limb. “Five minutes left,” She said, before looking over at New Moon. “Say.”


“What has it been like, having, you know, a visible Cutie Mark?”

New Moon blinked. That was what Trixie wanted to ask, with the zero hour closing in? “I don’t know, what has it been like having a visible Cutie Mark since you were ten?” The batpony snarked.

“You know what I mean,” Trixie said with a deadpan look.

New Moon sighed, “Well, honestly? It’s, well, it’s been a wonder. Not many ponies even knew Cutie Mark Albinism was a thing, so I would always get stares whenever I went out into public. Here’s an adult who doesn’t have her Cutie Mark, what’s wrong with her? It was even worse going out on tour in some of the smaller towns, some ponies there actually thought batponies didn’t get Cutie Marks.”

Trixie snorted, “Ignorant fools.”

“Yes, ignorance,” New Moon said, “But even if I knew they were ignorant, their stares still hurt. I always felt as if I was being judged, that other ponies pitied me for supposedly being ‘incomplete’, even if I knew otherwise. The days I’ve spent in Whinnychester…the townspeople don’t look at me with those eyes. If it weren’t for what drove me here, I would say it’s been some of the happiest days of my life.”

“When did you figure it out, actually?” Trixie asked, feeling the topic suddenly get uncomfortable. “That you had your Cutie Mark, that is, but it was invisible.”

“When? Let me think,” New Moon said, rearing her head back and looking directly up at the sky, where the black moon was due to pass over within the next few minutes. “Only a few days before you first arrived, actually. When the Cutie Mark specialist diagnosed me, it was one of the best and one of the worst days I’ve ever had. Then you came to live with us, and the year you spent at the School and staying with us brought me out of the funk. You are my best friend, Trixie, and I don’t want to leave you behind in Whinnychester.”

Trixie didn’t know what to say. Instead, she looked at her wristwatches again. “One minute,” She announced. “Please stay in that position. Keep your head raised up. Lower it just a little bit, raise it up again, yes, there, your head’s pointing right at where the moon should be. Try to keep your eyes straight as well, yes, yes, just like that.”

She sighed as her fillyhood friend was rigid as a statue. The moment of truth was fast approaching. Now she would be able to see if her magical theory was correct. “Fifteen seconds,” Trixie said.

All three of her watches ticked down. Ten, nine, eight, seven…Trixie turned off her flashlight and threw it behind her, away from the outer circle. Lowering her head down to the grass, her horn lined up perfectly with the five-pointed star.

Trixie cast her spell.

Instantly, power filled her, power that frightened her, a power that she hadn’t felt since the moment she had first donned the Alicorn Amulet. She had even less control this time, as the radiance of the black moon took her over, made her nothing more than a vessel of magic. Only the sheer power of will that Trixie had developed over the years, the same will that had seen her get back up on her hooves again and again, allowed her to direct the magic into her spell.

The world was black. The world was white. The world was cold. The world was hot. An ethereal presence infested her, and every second was a war to stay in her body one second longer.

She saw New Moon with something more than her own eyes. The batpony was being bathed in magic, by the invisible light of the black moon. The unicorn mare who was an outlet of the celestial body’s magic widened her eyes in surprise, as New Moon’s very identity was changed. More than she had ever expected, the other mare’s being was reshaped, her Cutie Mark erased and etched over, her form growing, becoming something new.

Then the black moon’s revolution around the planet took it out of the direct path of the circle and star. The world disappeared under her hooves.


“Trixie? Trixie? C’mon Trixie! Your body’s alright, please tell me your mind wasn’t fried!”


“Oh, thank goodness, you’re awake!”

New Moon had stayed in position during that entire ordeal. It had felt like a lifetime, even if it was only for a few seconds. She had wanted to move, but the sheer power she felt had scared her stiff. Every magical sense she had inherited from her father, the feeling of the earth under her hooves, the radiation of magic on the waves of air, the ethereal flow of manipulated energy, the otherworldly sense of the Changelings to magical stimuli, all had screamed at her to stand still.

“Gurgh…did it work?”

New Moon surveyed herself. Her new skin no longer felt alien. “I think so,” She said. “What happened, Trixie?”

The unicorn found footing with her front hooves, staggering her way up into a sitting position, using her haunches for support. “The power of the black moon was stronger than I thought,” Trixie said in between heavy pants. “It nearly consumed me. I think I know why now few ponies attempt to cast rituals under it. If I had lost control, it could have put me in bed for several months.”

New Moon’s eye twitched. She wanted to scold Trixie for not realising how dangerous it would be. She really wanted to. Yet, the batpony knew Trixie had done this for her, and felt she couldn’t. Instead…

“You were floating, you know,” She said. “Maybe it took lots of power to achieve it, but I saw you. You were hovering above the ground that whole entire time you cast the spell.”

Trixie blinked. “I, really? Then maybe it’s possible to learn how to-no, forget that,” She gently shook her head, still feeling disoriented. “Your Cutie Mark, it’s permanently changed.”

“Yeeees,” New Moon said, not sure what Trixie was getting at. As she looked over at her flank again, the black crescent moon practically shone, an oddity for its colour. Even more than feeling familiar in her new skin, the Cutie Mark just felt right.

“No, you don’t understand,” Trixie said. “It’s not an illusion. I mean that your very Cutie Mark itself has been changed.”

New Moon froze, even as her thoughts rushed at thousand hoof-lengths a second.

“Ah, are you alright, Moo-er, Australe?” Trixie asked, moderating her voice tone to keep the panic out.



“Noire, that’s my name,” Said the batpony. “My mother hailed from one of the Prench islands, and my father pretended to be, and they both taught me a little of the Prench tongue. I was reborn under a black moon le Lune Noire. It’s only fitting, isn’t it, that I rename myself after both of them?” Noire asked, and then blinked. In the months of going under an alias in Whinnychester, she had never even come close to internalising herself as ‘Australe’, and yet within a few minutes, Noire had been able to do that.

The black moon’s power truly was a terrifying thing.

“I see. Noire. Noire, Noire, Noire,” Trixie tried the name out, letting it roll off her tongue. “It fits you.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Noire asked. It felt as if a weight had been lifted from her body. Wait a moment, Noire thought to herself, surveying her frame once more, then looking back to Trixie. “You seem, smaller, somehow. Did that magic do something to you?”

Trixie wrinkled her snout. “Do something to me? I just told you, it changed your Cutie Mark. But no, it did more than that. You’re taller than you were before, Noire.”

“Say what?!”

The seriousness of the moment had passed. Bemused, Trixie motioned her head away from the field, the circles and star she had etched out no more now that their purpose had been achieved. “C’mon, let’s go home. I’ll show you in a mirror.”

Noire sighed. Between the sudden exhaustion in her wings and Trixie's sure magic exhaustion, they were going to have to make that trip by hoof. At least they could finally get out of this cold.


“Not a couple of inches, it’s less than that,” Noire said, twirling around and craning her head back to look at her rear end in the mirror. “But I think there’s a difference, what do you think, Trix?”

Trixie frowned, wracking her brains and attempting to remember what Noire had looked like before, it having been several months since Trixie had cast the illusion over her. “I don’t honestly know for certain, but I think that’s your actual height,” She said. “I believe I made your false form very slightly taller than when you were New Moon, but from your own perspective you were the same height. I think it has to do with your Cutie Mark. I’ve heard a few cases of foals having an accelerated growth for a few weeks following getting their Cutie Mark, so maybe actually changing your identity ever so slightly changed your body?”

“Could be,” Noire replied. Trixie had fired off every detection spell she could think of, including the Changeling detection spell, and even a few heavy duty magic dispelling cantrips. They had all fizzled over her form. As far as anypony could tell, this was the colour scheme Noire had been born with and the Cutie Mark she had always had since she first got one.

“Remarkable is what it is,” Trixie said. “If it weren’t for, well, the clandestine nature of this all, I’d have written into one of the magical journals. That, and the lack of documentation of your appearance before the ritual versus afterwards.”

Noire gave her new face one last look, amber eyes melting into amber, before she broke away. “Trixie, I don’t think I’m going to stay here too much longer, maybe a few weeks until the worst of the winter temperatures passes. What are you going to do?”

Trixie sighed, before suddenly smiling, and said, “I’m glad you asked, Noire. I’m coming with you!”

The batpony recoiled in visible surprise, “Seriously? I thought you couldn’t, you know, leave.”

Trixie made to speak, before she halted herself. The unicorn took in a deep breath, then exhaled. “You weren’t the only one reborn in that wave of magic,” Trixie said.

Noire took a few moments to process that statement, reconciling the indirectness of Trixie’s words with what the two had just talked about. It didn’t take her long to clue in. “So you think whatever problems kept you here, you’re past it now?”

“Not quite,” Said Trixie. “I’ll always miss my mother and father, but now, now I feel free, free to go wherever I want and do whatever I do.” Her voice softened as she seemed to reminiscence, “I’ve learned to love Whinnychester all over again in my two years here, but I’m done mourning, no, more than that, I’m done pitying myself. I gave up my performing career when I found my hooves inexorably stuck to the earth here. Now I’ll give up the loose network of friends I’ve rediscovered here. But it’s been so long since I’ve performed,” Trixie let out a whimsical sigh, “I can’t see myself doing that anymore, at least not full-time. This time, I think I’ll explore the land. I’ve saved up enough money over the last few years, and we can go quite some time on just grass and emotions. I've stored up more than enough energy from the past two years I've been living in Whinnychester with no real need to use it when my regular unicorn magic will suffice. If we get into a troublesome situation, I still have that on hoof.”

“Explore, huh?” Noire mused aloud. “Do you even have an idea of where you want to go? Equestria’s changed in the two years you’ve been here. There’s a new castle, the frontier towns of the south are finally hitting their stride, heck, I heard a rumour right before I flew the coop that Equestria has re-established contact with the land of the Yaks. Heck, perhaps we could even go across the western ocean, to a new continent altogether.” Noire hung her head low at that. “I really would rather stay in Equestria, though. I can’t imagine leaving her altogether.”

Trixie marveled at the many choices Noire had given her. It was true, this was a time of change, when multiple villains appeared to have sprung out of the background to reappear once more, the expansion of Equestria, and the coronation of not one but two Princesses. Speaking of a new Princess, Trixie thought to herself, That gives me an idea.

“The Crystal Empire,” Trixie pronounced.

“Hmm? The Empire?” Noire looked up. “You want to go there? I haven’t been there yet.”

“The glamour and the ideal of a city lost for a thousand years attracts me,” Trixie admitted. “It’s more just that, though. It’s what I’ve heard about the Crystal Heart, as an artifact capable of lifting the spirits of all who reside within the land and protecting them from Eternal Winter and the Windigoes.”

Noire deduced her friend’s unspoken motive quickly, “I’m pretty certain at least one of the Changeling hives would have already infiltrated the Empire if the Crystal Heart was even remotely capable of supply them.”

“True,” Trixie said, “But is it that they’ve tried and failed, or that they get something from them but it’s not worth trying to take over the place?”

Noire swallowed, “We could always go south and ask her, you know. At least, her hive is the only one I know the location of.”

Trixie frowned, “I’d rather not, at least, not yet,” She said. “Father told me I was at little risk going to the Badlands, but, no, not yet. Even with the magic I’ve studied in the last few years, I want to stay away. She’s a Queen, I feel as if I need to at least come close to matching her first. I just managed to create a permanent illusion spell, something that in all the books and journals and documents I've read takes a staggering amount of power, and I did it all by myself. Even if I had to harness an external power source, I created the spell and the circle for it to work in, and directed the energy of the moon into the spell. The Crystal Empire was displaced by a thousand years. I don't doubt most of their magic is inefficient and outdated, and I bet most of the academia have already scoured the libraries and royal archive there. But until I find something, anything to better myself, I would rather not talk to her.”

“Yeah, but like you said, she’s a Queen,” Noire snorted. “Unless you can consciously wield at any time the amount of magic you had out there, I don’t think you would match up to her, even if you learn something new in the Crystal Empire. But, you know what, that’s actually your decision. I want to protest, but somehow I get the feeling I’m going to be following you instead of you following me. I mean, I owe you big-time, regardless. You took me in, you gave me a roof over my head, and you helped me through a tough time.” Noire choked back a sob, "Then, this. Even beyond my physical appearance, I, well, I never detested my old Cutie Mark, but it's nice to have something visible on my flanks. So yeah, you go somewhere, and I'll be right behind you."

Trixie smiled joyously, eyes threatening to unleash tears onto her dry cheeks. “Thanks, Noire,” She said, sweeping up the batpony into a hug.

“You’re welcome,” Said Noire.

Despite her words, Trixie couldn’t help but frown as soon as she knew Noire couldn’t see her face. She thought back to what she had said about travelling to see the Crystal Heart.

That was mostly the truth. Trixie, however, held back the one thing that she knew would cast a pall of distrust upon her. She desperately wished to keep Noire as a travelling companion, and so would never confess the one thing she had omitted.

When Trixie had been possessed by the power of the black moon, it was like she had unlimited power, a repeat of an incident from a few years before. The taint of the Alicorn Amulet may have finally disappeared, but she hungered for the strength she had felt in those moments once more. More than just raw energy, she wanted, thirsted for Power.

Perhaps the Crystal Heart would supply that.


“We’ll miss you, Trix,” The slate-furred stallion said, eyes watering up as he hugged the unicorn mare.

Trixie held in a snort. While she had chatted with Einkorn many times over the last few years and considered him a genuine friend, Trixie had an inkling much of his enthusiasm came from something else. Well, she would miss him too, having known him for quite a time in both senses of the word. She patted his barrel with her hoof, “There, there, Einkorn,” She said, trying to reassure the younger pony, “You knew I wasn’t going to stay around forever, didn’t you?”

“Th-that’s true,” Einkorn sniffed, looking up so eyes the shade of basalt met violet. “But, you did get my hopes up with how long you’ve stayed here.”

“That’s true,” Said Trixie. “I had a lot to work out once I learned my father had gone missing and likely dead. But once I did, well, Whinnychester may be my home…”

“But idle hooves are itchy hooves,” Einkorn completed for her. The two shared a short chuckle at that. He had been surprised to see her return home and stay there after she had left shortly after she grew up, going on about her wanderlust. Every day Trixie had stayed must have stunned him again and again.

Trixie broke the hug off, turning around only to come face to face with Morning Star, the town doctor. The good doctor removed the bubble pipe he had been idly blowing out of off-and-on from to speak, “Now now, Bellatrix, Bella, Trixie, whatever name you want to use, if you ever get tired of the road we’ll always welcome you back with open hooves.”

“It’s Trixie,” Trixie said. “I’ll eventually return, I just don’t know when.”

“We’ll keep your house maintained until then,” Said Straw Thatcher, a golden-furred mare who was one of the few pegasus living in the village and the closest thing Whinnychester had to a village mayor. “I’m sure I can find a pony or two to rent the place out to during the harvest season, too.”

“That would be perfect, thank you very much,” Trixie said. She scrunched her muzzle, and poked a hoof at the batpony to her side, “C’mon, Australe, speak to the crowd.”

“Huh, oh, right,” Noire said. She had fallen off into a daydream as Trixie had spoken with a procession of villagers. Noire had met many of them, but she had forged no more than a tenuous connection with all but a few. This was Trixie’s time to shine, she had thought.

Noire flapped her wings, taking to the sky. It wasn’t meant to be an intimidating gesture, she just wanted to be able to see all the ponies that were there. It wasn’t quite the couple of hundred ponies that called Whinnychester home, as many of them had already said their goodbyes in individual conversations. Still, an impressive number, about thirty ponies, had turned out to see the two off in pony as they departed just after the morning sun appeared over the horizon.

“Thank you all for coming,” Noire said, taking a mid-air bow, a tricky maneuver to get the meaning of across. “You know, when I first came here, I thought it might be a little difficult to get work, heck, to even fit in, but you ponies treated me like one of your own and found me something to do. It’s a lonely thing, you know, having idle hooves as Einkorn mentioned here, though I think he meant it in a different context.” There were a few laughs at that. One of the laughs was a distinctly nervous chuckle.

“You’re always welcome to a job if you ever come back, Australe,” Winter Wheat said. “You managed to clear a year’s worth of maintenance backlog in two months, and I appreciated that.”

“If I do, I’ll take you up on that,” Noire said as she lowered herself back down to the ground, regretting only that she no longer basked in the rays of the morning sun from her lower ground position. Somehow, she had the feeling this was the last of Whinnychester she would be seeing for a long, long time.

Red Fife marched forward. He was one of the oldest stallions in town, and the pony whose field Trixie had gotten permission to use for her ritual. With a mild harrumph, he rose a hoof and gave Trixie a gentle noogie across her mane. “You take there, kiddo,” The red-furred Earth pony said. “I knew your ma and your pa well, they wouldn’t have wanted you beating yourself up forever. You go out to Equestria, do what you gotta do, and take ‘er by storm.”

Trixie’s eyes watered, and she held back a sniff. She at least wanted to maintain her dignity in front of these ponies. “Thanks, Mr. Fife,” She said. “I’ll miss you, and all of Whinnychester.”

She and Noire traded some more goodbyes with the crowd, but already the farewell party was breaking off, as several ponies had drifted off, returning home. At last, it was left down to Noire and Trixie.

“Once we leave, I’ll never go by the name of Australe again,” Noire suddenly remarked. “That feels a little bit strange.”

“Does it really?” Trixie asked, checking her saddle bags one last time before leaving. All of her supplies and bits were where she had left them. The two had considered building a wagon for the road, but Trixie had ultimately vetoed the idea. Never mind that they were going to take a train on several occasions, which would cost a staggering amount of bits. She wasn’t a particularly superstitious pony, but the last two times she had hitched a wagon around, disaster struck. Trixie wasn’t certain she could take the heartbreak over the loss of a third wagon.

Besides, she had the feeling she was to chart a new road in her life, one that a wagon simply wouldn’t fit in.

“No, not really,” Noire said. “It never really was me, you know? But the instant I came under the power of the moon, I was Noire.”

“A total change of identity, a rebirth under the black moon,” Trixie mused, finally beginning to walk. She calculated her steps against her hoof-length, “If we make good timing, we should be in Fillydelphia by mid-afternoon.”

Noire fell into lockstep beside Trixie, “If I recall, there’s an overnight train leaving from Fillydelphia. It, it bypasses Canterlot entirely, going through the Unicorn Range and making a stop in Vanhoover. Then from there it goes past the Galloping Gorge and finally to the Crystal Empire. It makes that entire trip in about twenty hours.”

“So we should be there early evening,” Trixie said. “Enough time to book a room, and perhaps even to examine the Crystal Heart, if it truly is on public display as you say.” Noire nodded in assent, and the pair of ponies fell into silence.

The two continued, walking down the western road leading out of Whinnychester. Soon, the flat valley that Whinnychester had been founded in gave way to rolling hills, ones that went up more often than they went down, giving the two ponies greater altitude. Even with her wings, Noire still stayed on her hooves. There was a romantic sense to using her four lower limbs, leaving the town that had housed her for a few months behind at her back.

At the top of one especially large hill, Trixie paused, before looking back behind her, at the shrinking town of Whinnychester. She honestly didn’t know if she would ever return here, even as her id, ego and superego all proclaimed that she must. Trixie had said her goodbyes, but she felt as if she had forgotten something. Suddenly, it came to an epiphany.

As the wind cast in through the valley, Trixie whispered to herself, “Goodbye, mother. Goodbye, father.” Turning back around, she continued trotting along the road, catching back up with Noire.

Seconds later, she added to that, “Who dares, wins.”

The crescent moon set over the eastern sky, as two ponies whose Cutie Marks were linked to it left the land of wheat behind.


Author Notes

When I originally developed the plot outline for this story, there was a fair amount of symbolism around the phases of the moon, hence New Moon's name, the Dead Moon comment, the Black Moon, etc.

Here's a problem I only realised later: in Equestria, there logically shouldn't be anything like a lunar cycle. Earth's lunar cycle involves the moon's revolution around the Earth not matching up with Earth's rotational speed, so we alternate from a new moon to a full moon and back approximately every 29 and a half days. In Equestria, the Sun and Moon are manually raised and lowered offering a clear demarcation between day and night, and an image search of episodes show there's never been a partial moon  (sometimes there's a small crescent with slightly darker lighting than the rest of the moon, but that's about it).

However, the New Moon arc relies on a lunar cycle for both symbolism and plot. So, Word of God: Lunar cycles exist in this story and blue moons/black moons happen just as often in Equestria as they do on Earth.

And that completes the New Moon Arc. The next Arc: Stasis.

"I may not have chosen to live here, but I choose to die here."


Well-Known Member
'Stasis: The North'

Trixie, in her life, had been a rather egotistical mare. She had been brought low twice, fighting back and pulling herself up the cliff she had fallen off one hoofgrip at a time to recover, before her path had been interrupted for two years and change.

In both those cases, she had been humiliated by another mare. This time, however, Trixie felt humbled by a single magical dome. The sheer scale of the dome that engulfed the Crystal Empire was beyond Trixie’s belief. She had heard that a lone pony had created a barrier over Canterlot a few years ago, but that had apparently been a non-discriminatory shield that kept out anypony who wasn’t keyed in to the barrier or allowed in by guardsponies. 

The dome over the Crystal Empire was apparently warded merely to stop out entities with questionable motives, and was singularly responsible for climate control within the vast area underneath the dome. The tracks leading into the Crystal Empire had taken a curious zig-zag when it could have gone straight north into the city proper, leaving it driving at a parallel to the dome. Trixie suspected it was to give ponies in the cabins a chance to look out the windows.

It was a design decision Trixie mentally praised. Right in front of the train, she could still see the falling snow and the frozen river, but if she looked up and ahead just a little bit, she could see the slight tint where the dome began, and beyond that, greens and blues of such a bright shade that it almost hurt to see after hours of white, and finally the grand architecture of a majestic city lost to time itself.

Then the train passed through to the inside of the dome.

The temperature immediately went up, but more than that, Trixie felt warm. There was a tiny sensation of constant euphoria, niggling at her background senses. She tried to grasp it, only for it always slip out of her mental hooves.

“You feel it as well,” Noire said, having looked over at Trixie’s face only to see her blanked out, lost in thought.

“Yes. I wonder if the Crystal Ponies feel this all the time. If so, does anypony here ever even suffer from depression?”

“Given they’re a thousand years behind the rest of us and suffered under a witch king, I should expect so,” Noire said. “Sorry. Sarcasm aside, I do know the castle signed off to pay for mental therapists to relocate to the Crystal Empire, so I expect they do. Maybe not as at high rates in normal times, but they’re still ponies, just like you and I.”

The train began to slow down as it approached its final destination, the great train station that the travel brochure stated had been constructed over the last few years to receive tourists and businessponies alike from all across Equestria. Already, Trixie and Noire could see ponies scattered about on the station dock, many of them no doubt there to catch the train going back the other way. “Ponies who also get a crystalline sheen to their coats,” Trixie remarked. She had seen a few Crystallised ponies getting onto the train in Fillydelphia and then Vanhoofer, no doubt returning home, but seeing the many Crystal ponies out on the station was enough to leave her breathless.

“They lose them if they’re away from home for some time,” Noire said. “For the long-time residents it’s a few months. Though, there are a lot of regular ponies who will come here several times a year to get a crystal coat which takes a couple of weeks to completely fade away after going back south.”

“Vanity,” Trixie said, snorting.

“Yes, that’s usually the general consensus,” Noire said. By this time, the train had come to a complete stop, but it would be several minutes before the passengers would be let out. Noire stepped out from her seat in the meantime, spreading out her wings and stretching her limbs. The batpony let out a cross between a yawn and a content moan, flexing muscles that had seen little use since their stopover in Vanhoofer.

As Noire returned to the chair, Trixie said, “Celestia hasn’t quite lowered the sun yet. I don’t quite know where the library is, but in all honesty I’m exhausted.”

“Find a hotel, tour tomorrow?” Noire asked, eyebrows raised.

The train’s intercom system turned on, announcing that the train was fully docked and unloaded, and all passengers were allowed to leave. Fortunately, their car wasn’t too packed, so ponies standing up were quickly able to clear out.

“Yes,” Trixie said, “I think that. It is rather fortunate we only had our carry-ons, I shudder to think of how long the line-up to get full luggage would have been.”

“It took five minutes to put the luggage on at Fillydelphia,” Noire deadpanned.

Trixie chuckled, and said, “Yes, well, a fair mare needs to find time for her beauty sleep and grooming from elsewhere, and those are five minutes not wasted elsewhere.”

Noire rolled her eyes, and gently punched Trixie in the shoulder, “You’re incorrigible.” Traffic in the aisles was thinning out, “C’mon, let’s go.”


It didn’t take the two mares long to find a place to stay. The Empire had returned just a little over three years ago, but more industrial ponies had already put up new hotels on the southern end nearest the train station, with room capacity to spare.

Noire opened up the blinds, exposing light into their third-story unit. “Oh, wow,” She said, provoking Trixie into looking over and out the window. The unicorn had to admit she was impressed. The hotel towered over most of the single-story flats sprinkled throughout the city, giving the two a direct line-of-sight to the Crystal Palace at the centre of the city.

“It’s pretty,” Trixie said to Noire, more sophisticated language failing her at the moment.

Noire brought a hoof up to her forehead, shielding her eyes from the bright rays of the sun on the western horizon only just beginning to dip out of sight. With her view, Noire surveyed the city below further. The Crystal Palace at the city’s heart had multiple roads branching out that all extended to the city’s outskirts, rather like the spokes of a wheel. The community’s many buildings were bunched in between each of these roads, the effect making it so that if Noire wished, she could walk downstairs and head straight north to the Palace, with no detours or winding roads in between.

“Trixie, why don’t we go and check out the Crystal Heart tonight?” Noire suggested, pointing her other front hoof at the Crystal Palace. “I can’t see from this far, especially not with the sun in my face, but the brochure did say the Crystal Heart is usually on display in the plaza under the palace.”

Trixie looked at the clock on the wall, then out the window, before she said, “Sure.” That was one of two items on their bucket list, and the easier one to knock off.

The two trotted down the stairs, the modern hotel beginning to feel out of place compared to the crystalline architecture they had just witnessed, before leaving their place of stay and onto the long road to the city centre.

“So, the Crystal Empire,” Noire said, making conversation. “We’re finally here. I’ve been wanting to come north for a while. I just never imagined it would be under these circumstances.”

“I wonder what the effect would be to be on one of the eastern roads right now, with the sun setting behind the palace,” Trixie said. 

“I’ve seen the Summer Sun Celebration a few times and even the Winter Solstice once. Maybe something like that, where the sun shines around the crystal and presents a unique light show?” Noire guessed. “That’s actually something I’d like to see, now that you mention it. The brochure doesn’t mention any such thing, but perhaps one of the Crystal Ponies here would know?”

“Yeah, wherever they are,” Trixie said, noting the absence of crystalline coats, though there were a few other obvious tourists on the path to the Palace. She took in a deep breath and exhaled in a soft sigh. She had charted an unknown number of leagues on her travels across Equestria in the past, and had even just walked from Whinnychester to Fillydelphia in under a day, but seeing the long walk still ahead of her, Trixie was finally sick of it. What she would give for wings at this moment. Heck, even self-levitation sounded good, and that was more reasonably within her grasp. If only teleportation didn’t consume so much energy.

Noire correctly picked up on the source of her sigh. “Hey, cheer up!” The batpony said with gusto, her good mood ever since her transformation seemingly irrevocable, “I have wings and I could fly, but I’m walking and keeping you company!”

It was an infectious sort of good cheer, which Trixie couldn’t help but smile at. “And for that, I thank you,” She said. With the slip in Trixie’s dismal mood, her mental barriers were down, and the tiny constant euphoria radiating from the Crystal Heart gave her a boost and a spring to her trot. The distant span of the tall palace was coming in closer with every hoofstep.

They continued walking for a few more minutes, only the clopping of their hooves against the tiles overcoming the light, white noise that permeated the city reborn, until Trixie got fed up with the silence. Searching for a topic to talk about, the unicorn seized upon an oddity that Noire might be able to explain away. “Say, Noire. Wasn’t this city originally independent from Equestria before it disappeared?”

Noire perked up, and she answered, “It was, ruled by a Princess Amore before the tyrant Sombra took over. I’m obviously not privy to the behind-the-scene details, but supposedly Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, y’know, Princess Cadence, is a descendent of the old royal family, sharing the Amore name.” The batpony shrugged helplessly. “Rumour says Princess Cadence was an orphan raised by two Earth ponies which I find suspicious, but what do I know? But when the Empire returned, she was instrumental in defeating Sombra, so I guess the Crystal Ponies acquiesced to her becoming their ruler and being absorbed into Equestria.”

Trixie wrinkled her snout at that. “Still seems a little odd.”

“Well, Sombra did kill off their entire royal family, aside from one who supposedly fled and managed to have a descendant a thousand years later, and from the sounds of it he disbanded their civil service and enslaved everypony,” Noire said, trying to impress the point on her friend before Trixie could say something tactless in front of a crowd.

“Ah. Sorry,” Trixie said, quickly shutting up.

“It’s alright. Just try to, you know, be a bit more understanding of their history. The Crystal Ponies have gone through a tough time.”

As Trixie and Noire began to finally approach the Crystal Palace, the density of ponies on the streets sharply increased, ponies with normal coats and ponies with crystalline coats alike. Many appeared to have a purpose with the Crystal Palace itself, entering and exiting the doors that lead into the great towering structure that served as the city’s command centre.

Still, there were a sizeable number of ponies and even a few other creatures, such as the odd griffon, surrounding the Crystal Heart. The Heart itself sat on a column at a height about the reach of a fully-grown pony standing up and stretching her front limbs. Four Crystal Ponies stood around the Heart spread evenly apart, while four more Crystal Ponies were in the air, constantly searching the crowd. All eight ponies held a spear in a limb and a shield on their back.

The tourists and patrons were barely fazed by the military presence, and through the thick crowd a line had formed. Ponies, one single or couple or family at a time, approached the Heart close up. The occasional unicorn or Earth pony stood up to brush the Crystal Heart, while the Pegasi by advantage of their wings were more consistent in touching a hoof against the Crystal Heart. A few had pictures taken of them standing by the artifact.

Trixie and Noire traded looks.

“What do you think?” Noire asked. “Think it should be safe to give it a try?”

Over the space of a few seconds, Trixie hemmed and hawed. It might give her a significant boost in energy, even beyond the full reserves Trixie was running with. It might not do anything. It might provoke a magical backlash, throwing her back and exposing her as somepony not quite fully a pony. The potential risks scared her more than the possible benefits.

Who dares, wins.

“Let’s do it,” Trixie said. Noire appeared to be in agreement, as she moved to line up at the back of the line.

The two shut up as the line in front of them whittled down slowly. While they had been able to talk in relative private on the train and the walk down to the Palace, there were simply too many ponies to risk somepony else even accidentally overhearing them. A guard might not understand what Noire or Trixie meant when they talked about ‘absorbing energy’, but he would be hard-pressed to let it pass, especially after the centaur who had rampaged through Equestria a few years before.

As Trixie began to get to the front of the line, she could feel the assessing eyes of the guardsponies, just daring her to appear to be a threat. Fortunately, they mostly passed over her form, appearing to reserve their scrutiny for Noire. At a guess, Trixie assumed they could see some of Noire’s military training shine through in her fit form and rigid posture, always only a few seconds away from turning her own body into a weapon.

It felt like no time at all before at last the two got to the front of the line, with a family getting a picture taken in front of them. It was then a thought occurred to Trixie.

Which one of us should go first?

“I’ll go first.”

Trixie blinked, turning to Noire, who had just spoken, seemingly having read Trixie’s mind. “OK,” Trixie said, assenting to the batpony.

The family ahead finally scattered, their vacation scrapbooking done, and Noire stepped forward. Flapping her wings, she hovered above the air, and brushed the Crystal Heart.

Trixie sucked in a deep breath.

Nothing happened.

Noire rubbed the Crystal Heart for a few seconds longer, then turned around, a neutral expression on her face. Noire flew off to the side before landing, waiting for Trixie.

Trixie exhaled, then moved forward. Approaching the stone pillar supporting the Heart, she stood up on her back hooves. Leaning on one of her front limbs as support, she stretched and reached out for the Crystal Heart.

The Heart was cool to the touch on her hoof. As she touched it, Trixie could feel that tiny background euphoria increase, but the result was negligible. Dropping down to the ground, she walked away, letting the next set of ponies in line walk up.

The two mares slowly moved away from the Heart, cantering down the road south back to their hotel. “Well, that was a bust,” Trixie said once the crowd had cleared out and there were no ponies around for several dozen metres.

“It was,” Noire agreed. “At a guess, I think a ‘ling might be able to live here full-time. But actually doing more than surviving on that amount of energy? No, impossible.”

“Well, I guess you were right about the Crystal Heart after all,” Trixie said. She sighed, “Hopefully the libraries around here provide something new. At the least they’ll certainly be a lot larger than the shed in Whinnychester.”

“Trixie, do you think…do you think you could teach me magic?”

Trixie blinked, turning head to look over at Noire, “Magic? You mean like unicorn magic?”

Noire nodded, “Yes.”

“Are you sure? I mean, it’s doable, but you’d have to dig deep into your energy reserves to do any significant spellwork.”

Noire scrunched her nose at that, “That’s true, but I’ve kept a large reserve myself over the years.” As the daughter of a pony and a changeling, Noire had the capacity to use magic from all three tribes. However, each tribe had its own separate pool of magic. As a winged batpony, Noire was competent at flight and weather manipulation. She had helped knock around clouds from time to time in Whinnychester, though the town was too small to justify a full-time position in weather control. 

When it came to attempting unicorn or Earth pony powers, Noire would be much more limited, with her access to magical power far lesser. She, along with Trixie, both maintained small pools of reserve magic that was their hereditary gifts from their fathers that could be used in all types of pony magic, but it could deplete surprisingly quick.

“Did your father teach you anything?” Trixie asked.

“Some, but not very much. He was never personally trained himself beyond the basics in the hive, and he never made it a priority to learn from the other aunts and uncles when they occasionally visited. I managed to push a bit beyond him, but it was a lot of trial-and-error since it’s not like a pegasus could ask for help with unicorn magic.”

“Well, I may not be the Princess of Magic,” And here Trixie snorted in disdain, old, unpleasant memories bubbling up to the surface before she relentlessly pushed them back down, and said, “But I know a decent amount of spells. More importantly, I’ve refined my casting over the last few years for efficiency, which will be doubly important for you. Telekinesis?”

“Levitation and light lateral movements. I’ve occasionally used my magic to get bolts on and in place when doing it by hoof becomes a nuisance,” Noire admitted, before she gave her wings a flap. “These wings of mine might be useful at picking up and holding objects, but using them to run a screwdriver or a hammer is not a pleasant thing to do.”

“I can only imagine,” Trixie said, before she sighed. Wings were a pipe dream for her. The unicorn mare opened her mouth to speak, only to inadvertently take a deep breath, tension pressing down on her chest before she let it all back out in a near-roaring yawn. “Oh, excuse me,” Trixie said, before taking a look behind her. Only a tiny sliver of the sun could be seen over the western horizon. Meanwhile, the moon was just beginning to peak above the mountains to the east, seeking to make its big entrance. In a way, Trixie had always felt at one with the moon.

Noire didn’t even attempt to keep the amusement out of her voice, “That’s alright. But beyond basic telekinesis, let’s see, I toyed around a little bit with heating and cooling spells, useful for summer day shifts and winter night shifts. Not too much beyond that, again, there wasn’t really anypony I could’ve learned from. Oh! I did learn one spell to help hide my smell, I used it when fleeing Canterlot. I don’t know if that helped or not, though. I like to think it did at least.”

Trixie whistled in appreciation, “A scent-masking spell? That’s honestly an intermediate level. I’d be impressed if you learned it entirely out of a book with no guidance.” The blue mare frowned, suddenly struck by an epiphany, “Say, when you actively use magic, you, well, you don’t have a horn. Does your body radiate luminescence anywhere like a unicorn’s horn does? I’ve never actually seen you use magic, at least, I don’t think I have.”

“No, I don’t. Though, father warned me though that if I used strong enough magic my entire body might glow.”

“Hmm…” Trixie thought aloud. “Tell you what, let’s use that pool the hotel has, and I’ll see what I can do for you.”


“Oh Princesses, that was the most divine sensation I’ve ever felt!”

“You truly haven’t been to a hot spring or a heated pool in, well, ever, have you?”

“Can you blame Trixie? I mean, she’s been on the roa-“

“You’re doing your third-pony speech again.”

“Oh, sorry. I still slip into it from time to time. Um, can you blame me? I was on the road travelling for several years, staying in my wagon, and then in Whinnychester for another two and a half years. I never had to spring money for a hotel, and what natural hot springs there are in Equestria have almost all been commercialised.”

“You had your giant bathtub at home, though,” Noire pointed out.

“Yeah, but even for its size, it was nowhere near as spacious as that heated pool was,” Trixie said as she approached their hotel room door. She put her horn to the lock, opening it up with her magic. The locks in the new hotels were truly state-of-the-art. “Natural hotsprings are even better since they’re always being being heated geothermally which gives it that authentic vibe.”

“Unless they happen to be releasing a lot of sulfur gases with it,” Said Noire as she entered their room.

Trixie scrunched her noise, following Noire inside and closing the door behind her, then laughed aloud, “When did we become so, I guess for lack of a better word, snarky towards one another, Noire?”

“We’ve always been that way, even when we were young. I think you just forgot that when we fell apart for several years,” Noire pointed out. Bat-like wings flapped open, grabbing a hold of a fresh towel to continue drying her fur off.

Trixie thought on that as she cast to grab her own extra towel, making sure to keep her mane and tail from getting too tousled from her drying job. Noire was correct. “Yeah,” Trixie said, before falling silent. Those had been the good days, when both of them were fillies and Trixie had moved to the big city, attending Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns in Canterlot. Trixie studied hard at the school, constantly attempting to improve her talent at magic that she had discovered under a cloudless night sky.

Then the colour of her magical aura had changed, something that was supposed to be impossible, and her life had all gone downhill from there.

“Memories, huh?” Noire asked.

“You’re good at that. At reading minds, that is.”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t realised,” Noire said mischievously, “That’s my new talent. It’s not really a crescent moon, it’s a stylised eye that I can look to peer into your eyes and read your deepest, darkest secrets.”

“OK, now you’re just being creepy,” Trixie deadpanned.

“Hah!” Noire laughed. “But no seriously, I hope mind magic isn’t something you intend for me to learn. I might not be a guardspony, but I still have my morals.”

A shiver passed through Trixie’s spine. No, not mind magic! She screamed at herself. The Alicorn Amulet had been a strong enough lesson that she didn’t think she could even ever turn that kind of magic on somepony else. Even the mere thought of revolted her, chunks of train food threatening to leave the way they had entered her body through. “I-I don’t th-think we’ll be doing that.”

Noire was easily able to read her friend’s expression, “Sorry! Sorry! Trixie, what’s wrong?!”

Trixie waved it off with a hoof, “It’s nothing, nothing really.” She looked up into an iron gaze, and knew she wouldn’t be getting off that easily. “Sorry, it’s just, what you said reminded me of the Alicorn Amulet. I had enough of mind magic with that to last me a lifetime.”

“Oh,” Silence. Then, “Sorry.”

“That’s the third time you’ve apologised,” Said Trixie. “Methinks you doth apologiseth too much.”

“For a performer, you sure aren’t good at old Equish,” Noire mused.

“Critics, all of you. But enough of that, tomorrow’s a big day,” Trixie said, peering out the window. The moon was finally out, showing off its splendor to the civilisations below. It had taken the two almost a week to get their affairs settled in Whinnychester following the black moon, and then a few more days to make it here, so the moon was in its waxing gibbous phase. “We’re foreigners here so we won’t exactly be allowed to borrow top-secret spellbooks, or even borrow a book for that matter, but we should be able to look at what’s available in the library itself.”

“Oh, I can’t wait! This is going to be so exciting,” Noire said, wings flapping erratically as she tossed her towel aside, successfully getting it to land on a drying rack.

“Heh,” Trixie chuckled to herself, pulling out a toothbrush and toothpaste. Trixie liked magic as much as the next pony, slowly gaining her joy for it over the last few years after her incidence of abusing her talent with the Amulet, but it had been quite some time since she had actually hopped around out of sheer excitement. 

Who knew? She had come here hoping the Crystal Heart could fill that growing hole in her heart, that acute thirst to feel power again, and had flopped. But if there was something half-decent in the libraries lost to history for a thousand years, then maybe this trip would turn out for the better after all.


“I’m actually amazed,” Trixie said as she dropped another book onto the table. She and Noire had awoken as morning broke with the raising of the sun, inquiring at the front desk about libraries, and slowly drifted over to the closest one after a quick breakfast. “Most scholars are barely able to read anything from two thousand years ago, yet there seems to be almost no linguistic drift between us and the Crystal Empire.”

“Uh-huh,” Was all that the unicorn got in response, as Noire was busy absorbed in a book that Trixie had pointed out for her. The library was an odd mishmash of thousand year old texts and far more modern works, yet another symptom of being in stasis for a thousand years.

Trixie grinned at her friend’s nonchalance. Noire’s mood had been on-and-off in Whinnychester, feeling confined by the falsehoods she had to spin. Being able to break out and wander with a permanent new identity seemed to have done Noire a world of good. Trixie hoped to keep it that way. Moving back to the shelf, she skimmed through the shelf, hoping to find something good for herself.

Fortunately, the library was sparsely populated, thus why Trixie and Noire had a whole table to themselves. Idle gossip that the two had overheard at the pool the night before led Trixie to believe most Crystal ponies who wanted to acquaint themselves with this brave new world went on trips down south to experience the Equestria of the present first-hoof, rather than read what new volumes their libraries had acquired. Similarly, the initial bout of scholastic tourism had died down, with most intellectuals already having journeyed north two years ago with the Empire’s reappearance. In any case, Trixie was also free to mumble aloud without getting dirty looks as she read the spines of the books one by one.

“Hmm, let’s see…Meadowbrook’s theories on teleportation…nope, disproved several centuries later. Bark Maxwell’s work relating magic and magnetism? Interesting, but not quite what I’m looking for. Oooh, an in-depth study on Clawsius’ treatise on magically-generated thermodynamic cycles? This would’ve been useful years ago. Seriously, what is with the mixing of old and new here, and the organisation, most librarians would’ve had a fit by now-ah!”

Trixie carefully grasped the book with her hoof. Most patrons looked down on a pony using her teeth to pull reading material around, and she just didn’t feel like using her magic right now. Putting it on her back, she trotted back to the table, getting ready to read

Noire looked up, finally having broken off from her engrossing read. “Find something good?” She asked.

Trixie nodded, “Yes! This place has some of the works of the ancient Griffon sorcerer Blackbeak, who was one of the early predecessors of the field of illusion magic. A lot of his essays have vanished into obscurity over time, making it incredibly difficult to read his material.” Laying her book onto the table, she turned it around for Noire to read.

A Treatise on Our Perception v. Reality, by Blackbeak,” Noire read, even going to so far as to pronounce the title with the shortened form of 'v' instead. Using her nose to flip open the book to a random page, she assessed the size of the hand-written notes against the thickness of the book before she whistled, “Looks like that’ll consume most of the day for you.”

“I know!” Trixie was practically gushing, only library etiquette keeping the volume of her voice low. Sitting down on her haunches, she had to keep her back legs from bouncing with excitement. Perhaps she had been too quick to believe last night that she had gotten past irrational bouts of filly-like exuberance.

Turning the book back around, Trixie turned to the front page. Slowly, she began reading, hoping to excavate a treasure trove of new, old knowledge.


A sudden thud sound brought Noire out of her reading reverie, the batpony clearing the floor by several centimeters with her jump. “Hu-wha?” Noire darted her head around, only to turn back and face the mare right in front of her.

“Nothing!” Trixie hissed, “There’s absolutely nothing of use in here!”


“I wasted several hours reading a document that underpinned the works of several of Blackbeak’s successors, and there wasn’t a single useful thing in here. Most if it’s been dissected and done better since, in easier-to-read language as well.”

“Isn’t that sort of the point of research and essays?” Noire asked. “To build off works done by other ponies and advance our understanding of the way things are, usually at an incremental rate?”

“Blackbeak was a griffon,” Trixie said with a snort. “But besides that, usually when building off earlier works, some stuff gets left behind. Either it’s because it’s proven incorrect or it’s less efficient, but I’ve seen everything written here in far more modern texts, those written in the last century.” She pawed at the floor with a hoof, wrinkling her nose, “The only thing new here is Blackbeak going off-topic for several pages in a pseudo-philosophical tract. I suppose that might be why I’ve never seen this book before.”

“Pseudo-philosophic?” Noire raised her eyebrows in amusement, “Like what? The whole ‘I think, therefore I am’ spiel?”

“That was Reneigh Haycartes who said that,” Trixie said, ignoring that the comment had been made in jest. “But no, Blackbeak goes and talks about how reality might not even exist, and that we’re all technically in one grand, shared illusion that each one of us can manipulate from a low-level state. More powerful beings, such as the princesses, have higher-level states, and the deities above even higher-level states.”

“That…I don’t get it,” Noire admitted. “Well actually, I kind of understand it a bit, but I can see what you mean by it being bunk.”

Trixie nodded. “Yes, and what’s more-“

“Hmph, is that bitch still up north?”


“You know, her. The one who the Witch King sent up.”

“Oh, her. Yeah, she’s still up there.”

“Hmmph, and good riddance to her.”

“I wouldn’t say that, dude, definitely not out loud. Who knows what freaky powers she has that he sent her north?”

“Well, there’s not much she can do up at the fort. I hope she never comes back.”

By this time, the conversation had gotten loud enough that what few ponies there were in the library almost simultaneously let out out a giant shush, “Shhhh!”

Noire and Trixie exchanged confused looks, then looked over to where the chatty ponies stood.

They were two crystalline stallions. Going off what their mentions of Sombra, Trixie surmised they had been part of those frozen in stasis, which gave her an ineffable feeling of vertigo at one of them using the rather modern slang of ‘dude’. Despite the sheen of their coats, the two stallions were still able to blush, apparently embarrassed over having raised their voices in a library. Quickly dropping the level of their voices back to normal, the one Crystal pony said, “Well, you’re in luck. From the reports DD writes, she doesn’t plan on coming back. She feels she has an obligation to stay up there.”

The other stallion snorted, and he said, “Obligation? More like she knows she screwed up and doesn’t want to face us. I bet the Prince and Princess never got told about her, I can’t think of any other reason she hasn’t been thrown in a dungeon to rot yet. I wonder if she was one of his concubines or something.” 

The first stallion’s face went from red to white in an instant. Trixie marveled at how, where other ponies were said to ‘turn red’ with anger or embarrassment or ‘turn white’ with fear, Crystal ponies could do it literally. She could only wonder if they turned green with envy as well. Said stallion grabbed his friend’s shoulder, and hissed to him, “Dude, public place!” He turned the other pony’s head around, showing him the glares of several reading ponies.

His friend seemed to take the message more keenly this time around.

“Sorry, sorry folks, we’ll leave you be,” The first stallion said, dragging his friend behind him and out the library. The other pony looked reluctant, but another glance at the library patrons convinced him to gallop after his comrade.

“Well, that happened,” Noire commented after the two stallions left.

“It did.”

“I wonder what, or who rather, they were talking about,” Noire said. “They mentioned a mare and a fort up north.”

“It sounded like they were all over a thousand years old. Huh, that’s really weird to say and think, no matter how many times it gets brought up.”

“I can only imagine,” Noire grimaced. “There were a few nobles who made jokes about the Princess’ age along with the Crystal ponies. They made sure neither of the Princesses heard their jokes, and they fizzled out fairly quickly. There was one idiot who made the mistake of comparing Princess Luna’s exile to the Crystal ponies within earshot of Princess Luna, though.” Noire shivered, even in the warm conditions of the library. “You don’t want to know what happened to her.”

“Then I won’t ask,” Trixie said drolly, “But I am rather curious about that fort they mentioned. I wasn’t aware there was even anything further north than the Everhoof Mountain Range.”

“There is the yak nation, but that’s more far to the west and a little bit north rather than straight north,” Noire said, recalling her geography. “Maybe there was something north of the Crystal Empire back before it went into stasis? But I don’t understand, though. Did this fort get caught up in whatever time spell that Sombra used?”

“We could, I guess, ask the librarian? Given the circumstances of the Empire’s disappearance, maybe Crystal ponies are used to having to explain things to outsiders who are unfamiliar with their history? I dunno, it might be worth a try, I hope it doesn’t sound too rude if we did that.”

Noire shrugged. “Never hurts to try. Let’s go ask her, I’m just about done with this book anyways.”

Having come to an agreement, the two rose as one, striding over to the front counter.

“May I help you mares?” Asked the Crystal mare sitting at the desk. She appeared to be a little on the older side, with a light purple coat and a rich, curly purple mane and tail. An odd, crystallised green-and-hat adorned her head. Only her archaic wide-rimmed eyeglasses and her Cutie Mark of a scroll really gave off the impression she was a librarian.

“Yes, but not with books,” Trixie said, “We overheard those two oafs earlier, and were curious about what they were talking about.”

The librarian narrowed her eyes, before she removed her eyeglasses, peering at the unicorn and batpony that stood before her. She sighed, presumably coming to a decision about something, before she said, “When the Witch King cast his spell, it didn’t just ensnare the city proper. The Crystal Empire was more than just this, after all. There were several small villages and forts. When he took over, he pressed most of us into service to work in the mines and on the farms.”

“And the fort, or forts, to the north?” Trixie asked in as delicate a manner as possible. For some reason, this appeared to be a subject the librarian was touchy about, and Trixie didn’t want her to clam up early. “What were they for, a thousand years ago?”

The librarian suddenly shivered, as if a cold had swept through the room, “Windigos.”

Trixie recoiled at that word. She was certain shock was clear on her face.

The purple-coated librarian continued as Noire and Trixie traded looks of disbelief, “When the Empire returned and the Witch King was defeated, it was a confusing time for us all. Our happiest moment, even more than a descendant of Princess Amore returning to us, was finding out that the Windigos had vanished in the last thousand years. He enslaved most of us, but others he threatened, sending them up north to fend off the Windigos. Most of them froze to death up there. Once the Empire returned and he was defeated, all but a hoofful of ponies sent up there returned.”

“But a few did,” Noire said, “This mare was one of them?”

It was Noire’s turn to recoil as the librarian’s expression suddenly turned vicious, “That one is no mare. She practically volunteered, and the Witch King made her the commander up there! I hope the Princess stripped her of her title, I shudder to think of her as the third-highest authority in the land.”

This is getting stranger and stranger, Trixie thought to herself. Well, curiosity may have killed the cat, but there was no equivalent saying for ponies. She asked, “What did she do, exactly?”

“No! No more,” The librarian shook her head. “I’ve told you tourists enough.” Frowning, she looked over the table the two had occupied for most of the morning and part of the afternoon, “If you don’t have any more use of our fair library, then please leave. I’ll put your books away.”

Trixie and Noire traded looks yet again, surprised at the sudden icy attitude of the librarian. “Let’s go, Noire,” Trixie said. She didn’t care to be in a hostile environment like this. Neither did Noire, as the batpony was quick to follow behind her.


“What do you think, Trixie?”

“I think I’m glad there’s more than one library in this city. That librarian definitely didn’t look happy.”

After being pressed into leaving the library, Trixie and Noire found themselves wandering around, looking for a restaurant. In the meantime, they had started talking about what had just happened.

“There is that,” Noire admitted, “But I was talking about this fort they’re talking about. Did you listen, Trixie? They were terrified to say Sombra’s name, always calling him the ‘Witch King’. But he’s dead now. Whoever this mare is they’re talking about, they never called her by her name either.”

“That’s, huh. Now that you mention it, that is weird. Well, Sombra I guess I can understand, from the sounds of it was he an absolute tyrant, but this other pony? What did she do?” Trixie asked, scrunching her snout in confusion.

“I don’t think it could’ve been anything too horrible,” Said Noire. “Nothing like, I don’t know, participating in Sombra’s slavery? Otherwise Princess Cadance would have had her removed if she was an awful pony. I think she may have simply had a special talent for running a fort and doing whatever it is they did to defend against Windigos.”

“But she, whoever she is, also has a bad reputation among ponies here,” Trixie pointed out.

Noire shrugged, and she said, “Again, I’m guessing here, but I would bet they think she got off easy. Ponies today don’t have an appreciation for the number and intensity of skirmishes the Border Guards get into with dragons and changelings or even the Arimaspi, and the number of missions into places like the Flame Geyser Swamp to temporarily pacify the monsters there. Heck, there was even an attack just outside Canterlot a few years ago by a creature called a bugbear, and most of the civilians didn’t even notice.”

“What’s your point, exactly?”

“Look, the Empire is protected by this dome here, right? But it doesn’t extend out to the forts. Maybe most Crystal ponies didn’t realise how terrifying Windigos could be, and thought this, this pony Sombra sent up got a plum cushion job sitting around compared to the rest of them, who had to work hard, menial labour on the farms or in the mines.”

“That’s probably true,” Trixie said, “But it feels like there’s still something more to it.”

Noire narrowed her eyes, and said, “Why are you talking like that, Trixie? It almost sounds like you’re thinking about going up there.”

“I am,” Admitted Trixie.

Noire curled her wings in around herself, “You’re going to have to do a good job upselling me, Trix. I came along with you to the Crystal Empire because there was value in coming here, and a nice tourist spot beside, and I felt like I owed you my loyalty. Freezing my dock off to go explore some fort whose purpose seems to have passed, which we might not even be able to get into, is something different.”

Trixie stopped trotting, and she looked around behind her, then to her sides, and even up. There was a nice restaurant in the distance that appeared to serve local cuisine, but it would have to wait a few minutes. Turning around to meet Noire vis-à-vis, she whispered, “Changelings and Windigos were anathema to one another for the longest time. Her hive is in the Badlands, way at the other end of Equestria. It might put her in a good mood if we were able to bring observations of them having disappeared.”

Noire raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure about that? I would think the lack of any Windigos in several centuries would clue her in to that.”

“Yes, well, these are ponies who actively fought them,” Trixie argued. “They may have missed out on a lot of history, but they might have some insight into why the Windigos disappeared. That, and they have actual experience with dealing with them, which is more than any Changeling alive can say.”

The batpony made to speak, then hesitated. Finally, Noire spoke again, “That’s not entirely true, you know.”

“Wh-really? I thought she was just a legend papa made up. No, never mind that,” Trixie rolled her eyes, “If she’s real, then she’s no doubt too fragile to actually fight now. I doubt she would have been fighting them hoof-to-hoof anyways, most likely she stayed behind and governed.”

Noire really had no argument for that. She sighed, looked wistfully at the restaurant that was a mere hundred hoofsteps away from them, then turned back to Trixie. “Fine. Give me lunch and let’s get back to the hotel, and I’ll give you my decision.”

“It’s a deal,” Trixie agreed.


“Ah, those Crystal Berries were delish,” Noire said, making a slurping sound in imitation of having actual food right in front of her.

“Well, you know what they say about birds and bats. If they overeat, they get all bloated and will never be able to fly again,” Trixie teased.

Noire let out a ‘hmmph’ sound, flapping her wings to achieve liftoff, hovering nearly a metre above the ground before dropping back down. “That’s just an urban myth.”

“Quite,” Trixie said. She had had more than her own fair share of food, though. The Crystal Berries had been succulent, having an off-flavour taste Trixie couldn’t quite describe in terms her tongue would recognise, being cool and juicy without quite every tilting strongly to any extreme of the five main gustatory senses. The snow lettuce had had that perfect level of crispiness, literally melting in her mouth. The cinnamon Crystal Apple however, as sweet as it was, was just too far out of Trixie’s comfort zone for her to enjoy, and that was with having a large palate developed over her extensive travels.

She would definitely need to do some pony-paddling in the pool later.

Noire spun around suddenly, and said, “Now, about visiting that fort.”

Trixie tensed up.

“I’m curious, Trixie. Your reasons make sense, but there seems to be something more than that still, or else you wouldn’t seem so desperate. What’s going on there?”

The unicorn mare grimaced, and then she sighed. Well, she might have had to explain it eventually, “I had a, I guess you could call it a feeling, that something important might be up north. That, and I can’t help but feel a sort of connection with whoever this mare is.”

“Like how she’s an apparent outcast, you mean?”

Trixie looked up, blinking, and said, “That’s precisely what I mean.”

“I thought as much,” Noire said. “You know, the Equestrian military has never been the nicest place to work. I mean, that’s obvious given it’s the military, but it seems every decade they attempt to crack down on hazing in the Guard, then once the brass is satisfied that they’ve done a token public job, they move on.”

That was a total non-sequitur, Trixie thought to herself, Or maybe not. I kind of see a link here. “So you think she’s being hazed or something? Seems unlikely to me, if she’s the one leading the ponies at the fort.”

Noire shook her head, and she said, “Not quite what I mean. Rather, Prince Shining Armor, before he became a Prince, was formerly Captain of the Royal Guard in Canterlot. When it was his turn to clean up the ranks, he was as ineffective as past captains were.” Noire let out a long, energy-sapping sigh, “What you said about She Who Must Not Be Named reminded me of that. I suspect the Princess and Princess are so busy with reforming everything in the city proper that anypony who is in one of those villages and forts simply gets ignored. At the same time, as I said earlier, if she was some sort of filly-eating monster, I can’t imagine she would still be running a fort.”

“So you do agree with me!” Trixie said.

“I’m not quite sure why you want to go up there, to learn something for when we attend the Changeling hive, or to meet this mysterious mare.”

That actually got Trixie thinking about her answer, but it didn’t take long for her to come up with one. “Both, I think,” Trixie said.

“Well, me too,” Noire said. “Glad to see we’re both on the same page.”

Trixie raised an eyebrow. Noire had seemed rather argumentative earlier about heading up north, and the unicorn wasn’t sure if her friend had came over to her side completely or was merely going along out of begrudging acceptance. Trixie sighed, deciding to let it go for now, and said, “Well, before we do, we’ll need to get some supplies, and find out where exactly this fort is located. Oh, but even before that, show me how you do your warming spell, I think you’ll want to work on it for when we leave the Empire’s protective dome. And then, if we can’t find a good pair of shaded eyewear, a spell to counter snow-blindness is definitely the second-most important spell to have…”


Trixie and Noire were up and out early the next morning, paying off their room fees. Trixie, having negotiated a lower fee their first night with her silver tongue, managed to lock-in a continued cheap rate for when they returned, in however many days it might be, perhaps even returning within the day. The manager had looked perplexed, seeming to wonder where these two mares would be wondering off to for a day or two before returning, but had bid them good grace, keeping their deposit until they were finally done in the Crystal Empire.

“Last chance if you decide not to go,” Noire warned, shifting her saddlebags around and making sure her goods were secure. She gave her wings an experimental flap, making sure for the hundredth time that morning that, underneath the cloth wing warmers she had purchased and donned, she still had the capacity of flight.

After searching around some more the previous day, the two had located some guardsponies, inquiring about the fort. While they had been similarly mum about the captain of the fort, they appeared far more open about the location of the fort. In contravention of everything Noire’s training had taught her, it was apparently even possible for citizens to visit, though they usually needed a bribe. And thus the two had purchased several kilograms of Crystal Empire delicacies to bring north.

“We’ve gotten this far from Whinnychester, what’s a few steps more?” Trixie asked rhetorically, using her magic to tie together some of the straps on the bright orange outfit around her torso.

“Yeah, sure, maybe just not so, yawn, so early in the morning.”

“This coming from the pony who had to be up at all times of the day depending on her shift in the Guard.”

Noire grimaced as they finally approached the northern gate leading out of the Crystal Empire, “Don’t remind me.”

Two sets of two guardsponies were amassed at the gate, one pair facing inwards, the other out. “Oh? It’s not common to see somepony coming out this way,” One of the Crystal Ponies, a female unicorn, remarked.

“We intend to do a little bit of camping out this way,” Noire said, taking the lead, leaving out the whereabouts of the precise spot they intended to camp out at. “Don’t worry, we’re experienced at this, we have plenty of backup supplies. Worse comes to worse, we have our flares.”

The Crystal unicorn blinked, briefly looking back at her partner before turning back to Noire and Trixie. “Well, it’s hardly unprecedented, just that we usually get larger groups for safety in numbers. Very well, but if there’s only two of you, please don’t partake in spelunking or ice climbing.”

The other Crystal pony, an Earth pony stallion, chimed in, “If you see a yeti, try to run away. If it corners you, feel free to use your flares and we’ll attempt to pursue.”

“I see. Thank you,” Noire said, giving the two guards a brief bow. Trixie, seeing her bow, copied the action a few minutes later.

The two ponies marched out of the gates, trotting north towards where the Crystal Empire’s dome finally stopped protecting the city against the harsh climes of the frozen north. Soon, they would be beyond the crystal city.


Author Notes

It's surprising sometimes how much banter my characters trade.

Amending Fences calls the Descartes expy 'Haycart', but I much prefer Hayscartes, and I even extended the horsepun as Hayscartes.

Extended delay for the next pair of chapters. I definitely need to write those two together before releasing either of them. Plus I have a few government-mandated exams to write.


Well-Known Member
'Stasis: Beyond'


The cold set in as soon as they left the protective confines of the shield created by the Crystal Heart. It was a bitter cold, one that leached through their heavy clothing, through their their fur and skin layers and blood to settle in their bones, as if the cold were a living, sentient entity that sought to make up for its inability to bypass the barrier. Knowing the legends of the Windigos, Trixie thought that might actually be true.

Even worse was the wind. At times, the world was calm, the landscape and the sky white as far as the eye could see, with Trixie and Noire the only two bits of colour in a colourless world. Then the wind would kick up all at once, going from still air to a howling gale that threatened to turn them deaf, attempting to sweep them off their feet and pushing against them when they trotted uphill.

“H-how many h-hooflengths did they say the fort was from the city?” Noire asked, teeth occasionally chattering even through the enchanted clothing and warming spells. They had found strong sunglasses to protect against the albedo of the snowpack, and so did not need a third layer of cantrips to deal with the sun’s harsh rays.

“Twenty thousand or so,” Trixie said, chancing a look back to see the pale glow of the dome around the Crystal Empire, made more difficult with the tinted sunglasses she wore to protect against sun-blindness. Making a rough estimate in her head on the distance they had already travelled, she added, “I would say we’re about three-quarters of the way there.”

“I’m be-beginning to wish they gave us m-military conditioning for this now,” Noire said, having to tense her jaw muscles to keep from chattering again.

“It’s why as soon as we decided to leave to the Crystal Empire I started letting my coat grow out,” Trixie said. “I did recommend you do the same.”

“Yeah, but I thought we were going to stay under the dome the entire time. Oh Celestia not another one,” Noire said. By this time, the two had approached another hill. Even with their light steps, their limbs still occasionally would sink almost up to their knees in soft snow, and without her wings to lessen the weight of her step, Noire found herself in yet another trough.

“I doubt invoking Celestia’s name will get you much up here,” Trixie remarked, looking up at the sky. Several hours had passed since the two had left the Empire just past sunrise. The sun itself was nearing its overhead zenith. Soon, noon would pass, and it would begin to fall into the endless chasm of the abyssal sky over yonder.

Noire snorted as she continued on, making good pacing up the hill, “Perhaps I should have been a bigger rebel as a teenager and joined an anarchist group or, better yet, a Discordian cult.”

“Were you much of a rabble-rouser then?” Trixie asked. Considering Noire had joined the Royal Guard, she didn’t expect anything the batpony had done to compare to what Trixie herself did, touring the country as a performing showmare.

“Not…really…” Said Noire, stopping to catch her breath as the two hit a particularly steep portion of the climb. Trixie, following right behind her, found herself taking in deep gulps of air as her legs strained to make the climb.

Trixie paused, “Wait, why am I climbing this anyways? Hold on, Noire.”

“Hold on? What do you mean-WHOA!”

Where before Noire had eyed the top of the hill with a grimace, she was now surveying a field of flat ice plains. It didn’t take long to clue in what had occurred. Turning around, she said, “Warn me a little bit better than ‘hold on’ the next time you do that.”

“I did. I said ‘hold on, Noire’, not ‘hold on’.”

Noire let out another snort, briefly watching the wisp of moisture that had erupted from her nostrils disappear into the brutal arctic air, before turning back around. “Cheeky,” She mumbled. Noire looked up at the sky again, only to pause as she spotted something in the distance. “Hey, Trix. It seems we’re close.”

“Huh? What do you mean? Oh! Oh,” Trixie said as she followed Noire’s gaze off into the distance and up a little.

Trixie’s first thought was one of surprise, at the fort being a bright, crystalline red. After mulling it over for a few seconds, it made sense. After all, the fort would have had minimal benefit trying to blend into the background of white and grey, as its enemies relied on other-worldly senses. Meanwhile, to ponies marching to the base to relieve soldiers or deliver supplies, the fort was practically a beacon in this cold, desolate world. After that, Trixie’s surprise and introspection switched to amazement. Whatever material it was made of, the fort had presumably been built in the untamed beyond, and not under the aegis of the Crystal Empire’s dome.

“Looks like an hour, hour and a quarter,” Noire estimated, following the contours of the ice plains up to the fort. There only remained a gentle slope from where they were currently at, as opposed to the steeper hills they had already climbed or, in the case of this last one, teleported past.

“That’s good. Trixie may have been the one to suggest coming out here, but she’s certainly getting sick of this cold.”

Noire didn’t have the energy to point out her friend’s speech patterns again, merely rolling her eyes as she attempted to blink away bits of ice in her eyelashes.


The sun was on its way down. To Trixie, that was actually a good thing. The intense reflection of the sunlight off the snowpack had left her struggling, even through sunglasses. When she looked up, it was to peer at the radiant red castle that marked the endpoint of their journey, which was perhaps even worse than the snow. As the sun dropped, the temperature was guaranteed to plunge with it, but at least their eyes would have a chance to rest.

The two had been extraordinarily lucky, with only a minimal amount of wind since they scaled the last steep hill. From there, it had been relatively easy-going. As they got within a mere few hundred hoof-steps of what appeared to be an entrance, Trixie could pick out individual features on the fort, such as a rampart here, a bridge there, and a watchtower there.

“At least one of those watchtowers must still be used,” Noire remarked. “There was nobody there earlier, but now there’s a guardpony waiting for us.”

Trixie had to strain her eyes, not having as good a sight as Noire, but she could pick out the pony after a little bit of searching. Whether it was a mare or a stallion, the guardspony in question was camouflaged well against the snow, with either a white or a very light-shaded coat and mane. As the two approached the castle, she began to pick up greater detail on the pony: it was a stallion, and he had a crystallised white coat and light-blue mane, only slightly darker than her own. Perhaps the greatest oddity was that he didn’t actually wear any clothing, though his coat was grown out thick enough that he might not have needed any.

“This is a Crystal Empire military installation,” The stallion stated, and Trixie noted he was a unicorn, though he carried a spear at his side rather than with a magical grip. It was only now that she realised just how few Crystal unicorns she had seen before. “State your purpose here.”

“We’re here on an investigation,” Trixie said, working her silver tongue as best she could. “We’ve been doing research on the history of Windigos and heard that this fort was used to defend against them a millennium ago. My partner and I were interested in being able to hear first-hand accounts of those ponies who guarded against them.” She would attempt to ease this guard into the idea of letting them in before actually suggesting it.

Said guardspony furrowed his brows, as if that wasn’t an answer he had expected. It was then that the possibility occurred to Trixie that he might not even have yet returned to the reformed Crystal Empire. It wasn’t unheard of for some ponies to be stationed at a base for several years, even one that was relatively close to a city like this. “That…sounds possible,” He grudgingly conceded, but it seemed he wasn’t going to let them in as easily as that. “And what have you learned about Windigos so far?”

“They’re parasitic spirits who feed off of negative emotions, especially hatred,” Noire said. “Where they appear, they also consume the ambient energy of the environment, causing the temperature to drop, inducing winter-like conditions. It’s been suggested that this creates more discord in the hearts of ponies as a result, but we don’t know if it’s cause or correlation. They disappeared only a few hundred years after the Crystal Empire.”

The stallion snorted, “Pah, that’s it? What else have you southerners forgotten in the absence of adversity? Warm temperatures and peace has mad equines like you weak.”

Noire bit her tongue. She had trained in Equestria’s military. While she was certain she could come out on top in a fight with this Crystal unicorn, she didn’t want to get into one in the first place.

The unicorn guard moved his eyes over the two, before lingering on their saddlebags. “On the other hand, you two wouldn’t be the first ponies to have come here in the last few years. I suppose it comes down to what you have-“

“Lieutenant Diamond Dust, what are you doing?”

Trixie had done only a cursory investigation into self-levitation using unicorn magic. By the way the unicorn guard in front of her jumped, she could have easily started by interviewing him.

“C-Commander!” The stallion, Diamond Dust was his name if Trixie was inferring correctly, turned around to face the new speaker. “Th-these ponies showed up wanting to get in. They claim to be doing research on Windigos.”

Commander? Trixie thought to herself, No, we couldn’t have found her that quickly, could we have? She turned her head to look past Diamond Dust at the apparent commander of the fort.

Trixie had thought all Crystal ponies were crystalline in appearance. She had to revise that belief. The commander of the fort, an Earth pony mare, shared the same sheen as her fellow countryponies, with a pale purple coat and white mane. However, that was where the similarities ended. Even beyond their odd coats, Crystal ponies seemed just like regular ponies, if a little bit out of touch with history. This mare did not. It was as if an artist had taken an ice block, chiselling off bits and pieces of extraneous material, and the commander was the resulting sculpture-come-to-life. Her Cutie Mark resembled the Crystal Heart in shape and style, with a few snowflakes surrounding the heart on her flank.

“I see,” Said the commander, her tone clipped and to-the-point. Even her face was as if it were forged from ice as she looked over Trixie and Noire, her gaze hanging on Noire for a few seconds. Finally, her blue eyes still locked on Noire, she said, “You are a part of the Equestrian military, are you not?”

“You can tell?” Noire asked, not too surprised. This place was isolated from civilisation enough that she didn’t bother to deny it. It would have to take an extremely bad turn of luck for Equestria to hear about a batpony visiting this fort, find out she had military training, and somehow link it to New Moon, runaway guard.

“You have a strong body tone, one that army ponies usually have as opposed to labourers. The Prince-consort has been reforming our military to Equestrian standards, and every new pony sent out here has the exact same stance as yours. I may be out of the loop, but I doubt very many batponies have moved to the Empire in the last two years, so you cannot be one of ours.”

Noire raised her eyebrows. This commander was good.

The commander looked up, then over to the sun beginning to set in the western sky, before looking back to the Crystal Empire, visible in the distance to the south from the fort’s higher ground. Finally, she looked back at Trixie and Noire, looking over their saddlebags, finally saying, “You wouldn’t be the first ponies to come around here, though none of them have been military. Well, the unicorn appears to be a civilian, a labourer too. While you appear to have supplies, it would be remiss of me to send you back when it would be dark before you could return.”

“We brought chocolate and fresh fruit with us,” Noire said. “It was our understanding we should bring some supplies when we visited. I know when I was out on patrol, fresh food and treats deliveries were always valued.”

The commander raised her muzzle slightly in acknowledgement. For the first time in their conversation, Trixie thought she saw emotion on the purple-coated mare’s face, a brief glint of excitement crossing through her blue eyes. “My ponies will enjoy that tonight, then,” She said, before finally introducing herself, “I am Commander Iceheart. Welcome to our fort.”

“My name is Trixie.”

“And I am Noire,” Said Noire, making sure not to mention which division of the Equestrian military she had been part of.

Iceheart lowered her head back down, “It is well to meet you two. Diamond Dust, take these two ponies to the commons. Get Powder Blue to check their supplies for poison. Make sure they realise they’re to be under escort at all times. Answer any questions they have, within reason.”

With that, Iceheart turned around, striding back into the fort. With some surprise, Trixie noted that not only did Iceheart not have any clothes over top of her coat, but her hair was also more shortly cut than even Diamond Dust’s was.

“Er-hem,” Diamond Dust said, drawing the attention of the two mares back to him, “You heard Commander Iceheart. Come in, please.”

Trixie and Noire followed him into the fort proper at last. The entryway held a large lobby with several doors leading in different directions and a large staircase set in the middle. Unlike the city under the dome, the fort was built of an odd red stone that matched its colour on the outside, the walls and floor glowing a pale red that served to light the room. It was obvious, however, that the fort was all substance and no style, with not a single decoration to be seen.

“Excuse me, ladies,” Diamond Dust said, as he began to close the gate behind them, the large frame barely making a squeal as it shut in place. Trixie noted with a little bit of confusion that he chose to use his limbs and mouth to seal the door close. Any adult unicorn worth her salt could at least use telekinesis, so why wasn’t he using his magic?

Nevertheless, the effect was noticeable. Although visibility dropped inside the entrance room with the lack of visible light coming in and no apparent windows, Trixie’s eyes adjusted soon enough for the dimmer radiant red. More importantly, the room began to warm up, heat no longer escaping outside, and within mere seconds Trixie could already feel a difference.

“That’s good enough,” Observed Diamond Dust as he looked over the gate, before turning back to Trixie and Noire. “If you can see enough now, follow me, I’ll take you to our quarters.” With that, he began to walk, making his way up the stairs. For once, the unicorn stallion finally used his magic, lifting his spear up and gripping it close to his body, but freeing up all four limbs.

The two friends followed him up the stairs, turning around to head up another flight of stairs to the second floor, continuing to keep pace with Diamond Dust. Only the clopping of their hooves against the stone could be heard for the next few minutes; the world was quiet here. Finally, Noire worked up the courage to take advantage of what the commander had mentioned to Diamond Dust about answering their questions. “Excuse me, um, Diamond Dust, I believe?”

“That is correct,” He said, not turning around to look at her as they made their way down a long hallway.

“I’m curious. When you came outside, why weren’t you wearing coverings? I would have thought this far north that it would be standard protocol.”

Diamond Dust finally stopped, and Trixie and Noire halted behind him a few steps after. Diamond Dust appeared to be contemplating something for a few seconds, before he finally turned around, and asked, “Do you know what the main qualification for a pony being sent up north here by King Sombra was?”

Noire’s eyes widened. He said Sombra’s name?

Diamond Dust continued on, ignorant of Noire’s self-revelation, “Us Crystal Ponies are a hardy folk. We learned and adapted over time to the harsh climes of the north and beyond, even as the Crystal Heart protected the main city. You ponies who live in Equestria, you might be able to survive in a northern winter, but we can thrive in it.”

The stallion lowered his spear, turning it around so the spearpoint was underneath his muzzle. His eyes lost focus, and Noire knew that for all the training he may have had to be on guard at all times, he was no longer there in the fort with her and Trixie, “A few of us, however, we were even beyond that, we didn’t tolerate cold, we were at one with it. Before Sombra took over, Powder Blue and I took ice baths for fun, Snowpeak scaled the mountain ranges with few supplies, Polaris would go camping out on the flats.”

Trixie gulped. In the state he was in now, Diamond Dust was a valuable source of information, but she would have to be delicate so as not to put him on guard. “And what of Iceheart?” She carefully asked, modulating her tone so as not to sound too inquisitive.

Diamond Dust inhaled, then let out a deep sigh, his clenched barrel visible relaxing and sagging several inches, “Iceheart was beyond all of us. It was like she was born to fight the Windigos. She was the only pony I knew who could go out into the elements and never have to come inside or put on gear. When Sombra killed the former Princess, he made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.”

Trixie and Noire traded glances. Trixie knew she couldn’t push any further here.

Diamond Dust’s eyes suddenly widened, seeming to finally realise what he been talking about. Shaking his head, the stallion looked back up from his spear to face Noire and Trixie again, and said, “Enough of that. We’re almost to the kitchen. I’m certain you will want to be able take off those saddlebags and clothes. I'll show you to the barracks right after where you can leave them, but you can leave the food supplies you've brought here first.” With that, he turned around, taking off at a regimented trot once more.

Well, he’s not wrong about the clothes, I’m beginning to really sweat here, Trixie thought to herself, taking off after him. The gear had been useful for retaining body heat, but as soon as she had gotten indoors, her body had begun to swelter. It was only a matter of time before her eyes stung with liberal amounts of sweat.

At last, Trixie and Noire spotted open double doors near the end of the hallway, and their destination was confirmed as Diamond Dust turned around in front of the door to face inwards. “Powder Blue, I’ve brought two guests with me.”

Trixie managed to round the corner just in time to see the pony inside speak, “Oh, really? More tourists, or new recruits?” It wasn’t quite like looking into a mirror, but it was close. Powder Blue was a Crystal Pony unicorn with a coat of blue a few shades lighter than Trixie’s own, and a pale-silver mane. If it weren’t for her more feminine figure, shorter height and the crystalline coat, Powder Blue might have been able to pass as Trixie herself at a distance.

Noire seemed to have gotten the same idea, briefly looking back at Trixie before facing Powder Blue again.

“Researchers, apparently, though one of them is serving, or has served with the Equestrian military. I never did find that out. Current or former?” Diamond Dust asked Noire as he set his spear down, leaning it against a wall.

“Former,” Noire confirmed. It wasn’t entirely true, but given the circumstances it may as well be.

“Well, come in, come in, you’ll be seeing this area for the next few days anyways,” Powder Blue said, inviting the three ponies outside in.

Trixie walked in, taking the time to cast a look around the room. The large space was obviously a kitchen, with several large fireplaces built into a wall, though only one was currently active with a magically-stoked fire, with what Trixie knew to be several baking stones placed above a metal rack. The smell of freshly-baked bread wafted from the oven.

Other parts of the room were alien to her, some of it from being a thousand years out of date, and some of it perhaps being unique to Crystal Empire architecture. Trixie could only guess at the function of some of the items in the room, and one wall seemed to have been built around a standing column of ice, with several items buried inside the ice, doubtlessly being preserved.

“This is Trixie, and this is Noire,” Diamond Dust said, pointing out each of the two adventurers in turn, “This is Powder Blue. Bluey, they said they brought chocolate and fresh fruit with them for the fort.”

“Oh, is that so? That’s good to hear, it’s rare we get shipments of anything other than preservatives and wheat,” Powder Blue said, immediately fishing through Trixie’s saddlebags. Trixie wanted to protest the invasion of her personal space, but decided against it. Given that they had gotten into a military installation, she didn’t want to push her luck too far.

Instead, Trixie cast her horn, taking her saddlebags off. “Here,” Trixie said, pulling out the bags of chocolate and fruit she had brought, “Chocolate, I don’t know how sweet you guys had before the stasis spell.”

“Not very, but the bits and pieces we’ve gotten since the return were, and we’ve acquired a taste for it going by the way everypony here gobbles it down,” Said Powder Blue as she sifted through the fruits, taking note of what was there. “Tomatoes, apples, oranges, yes, yes, I can work with this. Oh sure we have heat and lighting here, never mind the fact that soil conditions are completely unsuitable in here and that the Crystal Heart makes farming under the dome easier, I’m sure we can survive on lettuce and berries for the rest of our tour!”

“Um,” Noire said. She could sense Powder Blue had some pent-up issues to vent about. Noire didn’t really care to interrupt and risk getting ranted at in turn, but it would probably do everyone a favour if she could put the presumed cook in a good mood, “I have kiwis and lemons in my own bags.”

Powder Blue stopped her rant at those words, just about leaping into Noire’s saddlebags. Pawing through the supplies Noire had brought along, she quickly found the fruits in question. “Mmm, the lemons will be really good. Polaris will be especially happy, it’s been a while since we’ve gotten citrines.”

“Do you normally not get shipments of food in?” Noire asked, feeling this was an easy subject to talk about, even if Powder Blue appeared to be a little twitchy.

“We do, but they’re typically staples,” Diamond Dust spoke up. “Grains, sugar and yeast for baking, dried fruits and spices, butter for what fish we catch. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a lot rarer to come by. We’re not that far from the Empire, but with the terrain and the wind very few ponies are willing to make a delivery run out here.”

“I assume even when they do, the amount of ponies out here will probably devour it within a few days,” Trixie said.

“When it comes to food requirements, two ponies can deliver in one trip enough grains and sugar for a month, but for fruits and vegetables it’ll last us a few days,” Powder Blue said as she levitated the food Trixie and Noire had brought, putting it together with bags of other foodstuffs littered across several different counters. The unicorn’s horn glowed, her magic a light red. Trixie didn’t know what spell Powder Blue was using, but given that a similar red glow enveloped every item they had brought, Trixie could guess that it was something to scan the food.

This is rather surreal, Trixie thought. Here she was, discussing and listening to a conversation about food supplies for an isolated northern fort. Fortunately, Trixie saw an opportunity to move the topic to something she wanted to learn about, without doing so in a cackhoofedly way. “I get the impression the Crystal Empire doesn’t think too much about this fort. I understand back in the day it was used to guard against a potential Windigo invasion, but what about now?”

“The Windigos may be gone, but that doesn’t mean they’ll never return,” Diamond Dust said. “In recorded history, they’ve disappeared and then come back once already. Most Crystal Ponies have been negligent, thinking that because Sombra is gone that they’ll never have to deal with another crisis again. They’re absolute fools, but even enough of the ponies here were foolish enough to run away the first chance they could get.”

The kitchen had been a warm place, filled with artificial light in addition to the luminescent glow of the walls and floors, but it was as if in one fell blow Diamond Dust had managed to kill the feeling of belonging that existed here.

“Diamond,” Powder Blue said. Her tone was calm, but it was clear that she was scolding him. For his part, Diamond Dust sagged, and in that moment Trixie realised the two of them were likely a couple. Diamond Dust had, after all, mentioned that he and Powder Blue had enjoyed ice baths before Sombra’s rise, and the inference had been that they had taken them together. Powder Blue turned to face Trixie and Noire, and said, “I’m sorry for Diamond, he gets a little passionate sometimes. Mind you, I don’t disagree with what he said, but he needs to be able to hold his tongue a little better.”

“Sorry, dear,” Diamond Dust replied.

“That’s alright. Now, I’ve checked the food these two ponies have brought. All the food is good, no rotting or poison, though the apples and tomatoes should be eaten sooner than later, I’ll incorporate some into dinner tonight. Now, is everypony currently in the castle?”

The stallion shook his head, and he said "Neigh, Snowpeak is still out on patrol. He will not be getting back until tomorrow morning, I think."

"In that case, I'll scratch off his portion."

Diamond Dust rose, casting his magic to grab his spear once more. “Very well. In that case, I’ll show the two of you to our quarters next.”


“So Powder Blue is the cook here, then?” Noire asked, wiping some sweat off her forehead with a hoof as she trotted after Diamond Dust down another long hallway.

“Unofficially. All of us here are guards, but we all have secondary duties. We’re technically supposed to rotate around, but since we’re on a skeleton crew now, we found it easier to each stick with what we do best.”

“And you double down on guard duties and patrol, then?” Noire asked. “You leave your coat grown out, so I assume you don’t do too much indoors.”

Diamond Dust grunted, and he said, “Iceheart wasn’t wrong. You are a military pony.”

Noire was glad that even with her changed form she still had dark enough fur to hide her blush. “I learned what I could,” She said, and left it at that.

“Powder Blue mentioned something about soil in the castle and lighting and heat,” Trixie said. “Does that mean you have a greenhouse set up here?”

This time, Diamond Dust snorted. “Not quite a greenhouse like what the smaller villages outside the city use, but in essence, yes. However, there’s only a few crops that will grow inside the castle. No, you won’t be allowed to see them. I apologise if that sounds rude, but you have to understand that even if there are no Windigos around, the commander still demands operational security.”

Well, that explained why Powder Blue had checked for poison in the food that they had brought, though Trixie had already deduced as much already. She wasn’t too heartbroken about not being able to see their indoor farms, so Trixie instead decided to tackle a different subject, “You mentioned there not being any Windigos around. The yaks are further to the west, so I assume there are other creatures prowling around directly north of here?”

“Ah, the yaks. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them. Unfortunately, all those I knew will be dead by now, but if they’ve stayed true to their character, it’ll be nice to meet one again,” Diamond Dust sighed, his shoulders bowed by a thousand years of history. “We don’t get anything more than the occasional creature this far north, yetis, polar bears, seals, a few others. Ah, here we are.”

The stallion had stopped in front of another door, opening it up with his magic this time, revealing another large room. This time, the insides were filled with several modest beds lined up against the side walls, with windows on the far wall, with a single pony standing next to them and looking outside. Trixie gauged her internal compass and decided that the windows were on the north-facing wall. While the beds were all made up, weapons, tools and saddlebags were littered across the room, on the floor, against the walls and on some of the beds.

“We used to have twenty of these rooms filled to the brim. Since our return, almost everypony left and now this is the only quarters in active use,” Diamond Dust said.

Trixie quickly scanned the room, doing a quick estimate of the number of beds. That meant there were perhaps thirty ponies in the castle, as opposed to half a thousand before. With that large a garrison, this was probably one of the key, if not the largest fort the Crystal Empire had.

“Aurora, Aurora, we have guests,” Diamond Dust called out to the pony at the end of the room, as he trotted towards the windows, Trixie and Noire following.

The Crystal pony, Aurora, turned around. She was a pegasus with a vivid green coat not unlike the colour of the aurora borealis she was no doubt named after, and a blue mane of a medium shade. At first, Trixie thought she had purple eyes, but as she got closer to the windows, she realised Aurora had heterochromia, one eye red, the other purple.

“Lieutenant,” Aurora saluted with a hoof.

“How goes it, Aurora?”

“Visibility is better than normal today, the fossils were dormant for a short period earlier. I saw a yeti hanging around, but it has moved away since.”

“Good, good,” Diamond Dust said as he stared out the window, and Trixie followed his gaze. The sky was already beginning to darken, the sun beginning its descent in the western sky. To the north, there were mountains, mountains, and more mountains, each threatening to poke at the heavens above, and a floor of snow below. Closer to the fort, Trixie could see the odd tree that somehow managed to survive in the eternal cold. Off in the distance, a mist of powder snow pervaded the air, blocking sight for a good distance before it cleared up again.

“And these two are?” Aurora asked, nodding her head at Trixie and Noire.

“Ah, right. These two are Trixie, and Noire. The commander has allowed them to stay for a little while. They’re here to do some research on Windigos.”

Aurora bowed her head, “I see. Well, they aren’t here anymore, even if their legacy remains.”

“Legacy? What legacy?” Noire asked.

Aurora looked out the window, and pointed a hoof north, “Do you see where there is a snowstorm out there?”

“Yeah, what about it?” Noire asked again. The snowstorm over the northern ice flats was fairly obvious.

“I’m not surprised Equestrians have forgotten this, but when a Windigo dies, it doesn’t have flesh to rot away. It’s more ethereal than corporeal. Despite that, at its moment of death a Windigo becomes fully manifest in our world,” Aurora said. “The remains of a Windigo fossilise into a magical ice, incapable of being destroyed by just about any known magic.”

“Wait, really?” Trixie asked. “I’ve never heard of this before. That seems highly unlikely.”

“Unlikely it may seem, but that is the truth.”

Diamond Dust and Aurora immediately turned around, each of them saluting Commander Iceheart, who had just walked into the room. Diamond Dust kept his spear rigid at his side, deferring to the commander.

Iceheart continued, “That ice is capable of lasting for several thousand years, at least as far as we know from records. It’s more than just mere ice, however. Where the Windigo fossils exist, it induces its own weather system around it, creating nonstop snowstorms for tens of thousands of hoofsteps around, and an everlasting polar vortex in the immediate area. Around the castle, going outside is tolerable, but as you approach the ice, the temperature drops. The closer you get, the worse it becomes. Even I cannot get within more than a few thousand hoofsteps of it.”

Trixie took a few seconds to absorb that. Windigo remains being capable of creating conditions even harsher than the already tough conditions of the barren north sounded fantastical, but these ponies had no reason to tell tall tales. “No wonder all of you stay around still. How long has that been around for? Wait, Aurora said they can’t be destroyed by ‘just about’ any known magic, does that mean there’s something that can?”

“The ice was not actually there when we went into stasis. Multiple Windigos have been known to die together in formation to create a larger fossil ice formation. By the size of the snowstorms that exist, I would guess around ten to twelve of them died. They did not appear to know where the Crystal Empire was located when it disappeared. We are fortunate. The Empire would have fallen upon its return if the Windigos had decided to fossilise right over where the Palace is.”

Multiple ponies shivered as they realised the implications of what Iceheart was talking about.

Iceheart sat down on her haunches, staying propped up on her front hooves. From what Trixie had seen of her already, she wasn’t one for gesturing with a limb when she talked. In fact, the inflection of her tone barely changed. Trixie could only wish she had that kind of poker face when she had negotiated wages as a performer. “As for magic, well, the alicorn princesses back in the day very rarely visited us, and we never asked them to try, so it is possible they knew something that could destroy the fossils. Back in the day, we would harness the power of the Crystal Heart to destroy a fossil, but it always would take the Heart several days after to recharge. Then, the unicorns would have to hold up a shield to protect against the weather and the Windigos until the dome was reactivated.”

Noire frowned at that, spotting an inconsistency, and she said, “Well, there aren’t any Windigos around now. Why hasn’t the Empire destroyed this one, then?”

“Because the last time we freely chose to use the Crystal Heart to destroy Windigo fossils, King Sombra took over,” Diamond Dust interjected. “He used it a few more times after, but always kept it hidden away. I returned to the Empire once to ask for use of the Heart to partially destroy this ice block, it would take multiple uses to completely demolish it.” The Crystal unicorn sighed, his head drooping, “I was practically chased away for merely suggesting it to the Princess.”

Noire wrinkled her nose. So she had been at least partially right for the Prince and Princess not caring too much about what happened out here.

“It is what it is,” Iceheart said, standing up on all four hooves again, walking to the window and looking outside. By now, nightfall was on its way, the sky noticeably darkening every few minutes. “We do what we can, and we will continue to watch out for the signs of their imminent return.” She turned around. Despite her neutral words and hard attitude, Trixie saw a gentleness in Iceheart’s blue eyes.

Iceheart lead a garrison of ponies, perhaps as many as a half a thousand at one point, against the frozen spirits of the north. Even still, she seemed to be a gentle spirit at heart. Trixie could only wonder what the mare was capable of when angered.

“Enough of that though, I am hungry. How goes Powder Blue’s efforts, Diamond Dust?”

By now, Diamond Dust had relaxed, lazily sitting on a bed. They made a show of appearing formal at first, but now that I think about it, they’re really quite informal after they’ve greeted one another. Perhaps because they’ve been reduced to such a tiny garrison? Trixie thought to herself.

“She’ll be around an hour. She had to clean out the fish a little bit first.”

“Ah. Please round up the guards for dinner, then. Polaris and Octantis are to cover the north and south towers for now. I’ll choose who to replace them after the meal. I assume you two are acceptable with eating fish? I do not know if Powder Blue already asked you or not, and we should let her know before she starts cooking,” Iceheart asked Noire and Trixie, tilting her head towards the two.

“Equestrian military protocol dictates we at least get used to seafood in the event we get shuffled into a naval operation,” Noire murmured.

“I’ve eaten grass on the road multiple times,” Trixie said, memories of the bitter taste clinging to her tongue for hours at a time souring her mood. “I’ve only occasionally had fish but yes, I am fine with it. Powder Blue never did ask us, I think.”

“Very well. Once it gets too dark to see outside from here, Aurora and I shall escort you to our mess.”


Trixie wasn’t quite sure how Powder Blue did it. Perhaps she used magic? Or maybe it was the spices themselves that were magical. In any event, the unicorn who could pass for Trixie’s doppelganger at a distance had managed to bring flavour to life in the food she had prepared, both what Trixie and Noire had brought as well as what was apparently produced or locally caught.

“Powder Blue is our de facto chef,” Iceheart said, walking the two of them away from the kitchen. “She has done a splendid job in lieu of the ponies who were supposed to be serving, and left upon the return and King Sombra’s vanquishing.”

“They seem to be quite fond of you,” Noire noted. It had been rather obvious to see at the sup. Each pony there was disciplined, but they still all doted on Iceheart.

“Yes. In the past, Sombra appointed me as the commander of the fort here. I did not think I was worthy at the time, but while the Witch King was many bad things, he was not foolish. I believe he saw something in me,” Iceheart said.

Trixie wrinkled her nose. Throughout their first few meetings, and through the idle chatter she had shared at supper, Iceheart’s speech bothered her. It wasn’t that the Crystal Earth pony sounded fake, far from it. Even though her tone and pitch was always controlled, Iceheart always seemed sincere. Rather, it was the way she allowed no emotion to leave her tongue. Even the way she walked, stood, and lightly smiled meant nothing. Only her eyes occasionally betrayed her.

There was something to this mare, but Trixie decided to leave it for another time. Trixie had her own problems, and she hesitated to poke at another pony’s issues. New Moon had been one case, but a stranger like Iceheart? So far, nothing she had seen indicated that Iceheart was weak of heart. If she felt hurt by the actions of the Crystal ponies, she didn’t seem the type to crumble as a result. The near-adoration of those who had stayed behind in the fort was practically radiant. Had Trixie been able to command that type of obedience, she might never have left Whinnychester. Had the Changelings been able to exude the simultaneous confidence, toughness and gentleness that Iceheart did, they might have never become so estranged from the ponies.

Instead, Trixie asked, “What do you think he saw?”

“The way I was able to rally ponies around me, perhaps. No doubt he could have enslaved me as easy as he had any other, but I was different in one way: among the Crystal ponies, I have the highest known resistance to the cold, both natural and magical. Even Sombra was unable to do much more than ward the Windigos off, so he sent, exiled me to the fort. I regret not being able to share solidarity with my fellow Crystal ponies, but to protect my people, this was the best choice.”

Trixie took a few seconds to read into that as far as she could. That sort of statement almost sounded like something a coward in a novel might say, but this was real life. And for as much as her expression was sculpted from ice, Iceheart seemed genuinely remorseful in that instant that she could not fully sympathise with her fellow Crystal ponies, who had been downtrodden under King Sombra’s rule. It was difficult for Trixie to judge, but between being a slave under the dome and a free pony who had to fight Windigos and go out into the bitter cold every day, she thought all Crystal ponies had had a terrible few years of life under King Sombra.

“King Sombra ruled over the Crystal Empire for about two years, and it’s already been more than three years since the stasis ended. Five years total then, a little over in fact. You haven’t thought about retiring from your position?” Noire asked.

“No,” Iceheart said, continuing to trot through several hallways and up several flights of stairs during the entire conversation. “Truthfully, I could have left had I so desired. The Windigos have disappeared after all, and new ponies would eventually take my place. But they wouldn’t have the experience that I have, or the capacity to resist the cold that I do. So I will stay here so long as that block of ice still exists.”

“That sounds…lonely,” Noire confessed.

“Perhaps,” Iceheart conceded, finally stopping her climb up the stairs. She took the opportunity to look out the window, this one facing north. Outside, a red light strayed randomly across the surface of the ice flats. From what Trixie and Noire had learned over supper, the light was directed from one of the towers, the result of a massive focus lens that redirected the glow of the castle’s red stone into a giant light the night shift used to keep an eye on the flats at night. “But I have my own personal code and sense of duty, and I choose to follow it. I may not have chosen to live here, but I choose to die here.”

Trixie wasn’t sure how to take that comment. She was saved from having to think about it, as at that moment Diamond Dust came into view from around the corner.

“Ah, there you are,” Iceheart said, getting his attention. “When did you wake up today?”

“Just before lunchtime,” Diamond Dust answered.

“Good, good. Please escort Trixie and Noire to their quarters. I’ll have somepony relieve you at midnight.”

“Alright, then,” Diamond Dust said, and the two guardponies traded salutes before Iceheart trotted away past the corner where Diamond Dust had come from. The stallion turned to Trixie and Noire and said, “Follow me, please, it shouldn’t be too long a walk.”

“You don’t keep somepony on guard during the night in your actual quarters?” Noire asked as she was being escorted.

“Oh, we do, but separating you from everypony else reduces the damage you could do if you were a saboteur,” Diamond Dust said, leading them through more doors still.

“The commander really takes operational security seriously, huh?” Noire said, attempting to make idle conversation. “You guys really seem to adore her.”

Diamond Dust paused, before turning his around to face her. “As we should. If it weren’t for Iceheart, the Windigos might have overrun us during Sombra’s reign.”

“The ponies in the city really don’t seem to value her, though,” Trixie said.

Diamond Dust curled his lip up, flaring his nostrils as he growled, and said, “Of course not. They look at her and think she got off easy, not having to labour directly under Sombra. It’s because she did such a good job that the friends and family we left behind don’t realise just how threatening the Windigos were.”

He started walking again, his pace noticeably picking up, and Trixie and Noire hastened to follow after him. In short time, they found themselves outside of a pair of double doors. Casting a spell, Diamond Dust swung the doors open, revealing a room noticeably smaller than the quarters downstairs, with only a few beds instead of the thirty-odd for the garrison. A few windows opened out onto the ice plains.

“Bathroom is to the side, we do get running water even this high up,” Diamond Dust said. “We’ll see you in the morning."


It didn’t take long for Trixie and Noire to settle in the room, having brought along the clothes and saddlebags they had removed earlier prior to dining. It also didn’t take long to discover the presence of a bath in the bathroom. Though the water was cold, Trixie guided Noire through using a heating spell to heat the water up for practice, and in short order the two of them had both bathed, washing off the sweat they had amassed throughout the day.

“What do you think?” Trixie asked after she had lighted up the fireplace. Unfortunately, the partial moon was blocked out by cloud cover, so she couldn't curl up gazing at the moon, but she could still sit next to a source of heat, allowing it to chase away the last drops of water clinging to her coat.

“They seem to be functioning well,” Noire conceded. “They’re definitely shunned by the rest of the Empire, but the ponies here have found solidarity with one another.”

“Diamond Dust and Powder Blue definitely seem to be a thing,” Trixie mused, feeling the need to gossip.

“A few of them at the dinner appeared to be like that. I find it curious that they all bunk together in a single room, Equestrian policy in a fort with multiple quarters is to separate by gender. I wonder what they get down to down there,” Noire said. “Though, given there’s at least three ponies on the night shift and a fourth one out on patrol, Iceheart might deliberately keep couples separated from sleeping at the same time.”

“She seems to be doing a good job here, at least as far as I can tell. They definitely adore her. It seems like the Empire is humouring the ponies here instead of requiring this fort to be manned, or else they wouldn’t have so few ponies here.”

Noire wrinkled her nose at that assessment, and the batpony said, “That seems to be poor planning. They must know more information than I do though, so I can’t really say. Somepony is still authorising food shipments up here, and ponies in the Empire seem to be generally aware there are ponies here still. Not a conspiracy though, if you were getting that in your head. Just...I don't know.”

"Well, maybe there's something about the Windigo fossils that we don't know that the Crystal Ponies do?" Trixie suggested. "I've travelled a lot and heard lots of folklore, but this is the first time I've ever heard anything about Windigos turning into ice when they die."

"They have no real reason to be pulling one over us. That weather system out there looks more localised too. You saw how it seems almost circular, right? Like there's an epicenter to the storm," Noire said, sighing. "I don't know. When I joined the military, I did it with idealism, wishing to help my fellow pony. Even if they're also ponies who became part of their army, most of them were likely forced to come out here by King Sombra, and were shunned for it by the rest of the Crystal ponies, Iceheart especially. I just feel sort of, like, you were able to help me in my darkest hour, surely we should be able to figure a way to help them? They seem to be stuck in a hard place. I'm not sounding weird, am I?"

“Of course not,” Trixie said. “But we should be able to spend a few days here before we run out of goodwill from the food we brought. We’ll sleep on it for now, and try to figure out something later.”


Trixie dreamed that night.

This time, it wasn’t a nightmare, and there was no Alicorn Amulet. Instead, she sat across from the full moon, shrunk down to the size of a pony and brought to the planet below.

This…is bizarre, Trixie thought. She was able to acknowledge this was a dream, but had no control of her dream self beyond that.

Her body moved forward, reaching a hoof out to the moon. The celestial body shimmered as she touched it, waves of light rippling outwards. Her hoof recoiled, hesitant as the full moon continue to shimmer.

The waves stopped. Then the moon disappeared.

Trixie’s eyes widened. What was going o-


The sound of thunder woke Trixie up.

It took her a few seconds as she shook her sleepiness to realise the issue with that. Thunder was incredibly rare in winter conditions, and this far north it should have been unheard of.

Noire was already up, peering out the window. “What’s going on?” Trixie asked, glancing outside as well. It was definitely morning, the sky beginning to brighten. There was a significant break in the cloud cover above, exposing the first hints of blue Trixie had seen in days.

“I think somepony saw something out in the flats,” Noire said. “The snowstorm from the Windigo fossils has expanded since yesterday, so I can’t see if there really is anything out there.”

Trixie was about to ask another question, only for clarity to settle in. That wasn’t thunder she had heard. It was the sound of several sets of hooves stomping. Even though they were separated by what had to be a few floors, she could still feel the tiny castle garrison bustle into motion to answer whatever had appeared outside.

Noire turned around, and said, “Perhaps we should ask whoever’s on guard, if he or she is already out there?” Not really waiting for an answer, Noire turned around, striding towards the door and swinging one of them open with a hoof.

“Yes-yes, yes, I saw him as well. He still has some distance, but it’s definitely pursuing him. If he keeps his pace they’ll meet up in less than ten minutes.”

Whoever was on guard wasn’t in sight, but a quick trot over and they spotted Aurora, the green-coated Crystal pegasus, looking out another north-facing window. She had an ear up against an acoustic voicepipe, a feature Noire had noted the day before but hadn’t commented on. The castle truly was over a thousand years old.

Aurora’s face darkened, before she spoke back into the voicepipe, “Well, I hope she makes it in time.” Stepping away from the voicepipe, she spotted Noire and Trixie. “You two picked an awful time to come out. They should be able to handle it without me, but Amore damnit, I wish I was down there to help!”

“What’s going on?” Noire asked. “I thought I saw something outside earlier, but the snow is obscuring whatever it was.”

“One of our ponies, Snowpeak, was out on patrol for several days. He was due to return this morning. The northern watch spotted him, but he’s being pursued by a yeti,” Aurora said, grimacing. “Yetis are terrifying creatures. I can only hope that – oh, there they are!”

Trixie and Noire crowded the window on other side of Aurora, peering outside. A small creature, just barely identifiable as a pony from a distance, was dashing along the ice flats, having just escaped the zone of the snowstorm. He was making good pace, potentially able to get to the castle within a quarter-hour if he didn’t encounter any obstacles in that time period.

Unfortunately, there was something pursuing him, and it was significantly larger than the pony, Snowpeak. It was a little bit easier to notice the features of the creature, which was decorated in long, thick white hair. That was the yeti, and it seemed to alternate between running on all fours and running on its hind legs.

“Ooooh, I hope they make it in t-time-it’s the commander!” Aurora said, pointing.

Noire followed the skittish pegasus’s hoof, frowning as she scanned the ground, seeing nothing. With a start, she realised Aurora wasn’t pointing at the ground, and Noire instead looked up. Her jaw dropped. Flying through the air, a pegasus was carrying the Commander, airlifting her to intercept Snowpeak and the yeti.

“That’s, what is she doing?!” Noire yelped, her normal composure subjugated by her surprise.

“Something special. Just you watch,” Aurora said. In contrast to Noire, she had settled down, coolly regarding the scene.

The pegasus carrying Iceheart zoomed in closer and closer, and Snowpeak seemed to notice them, slightly changing the path of his mad dash to meet them. Within the minute, the pegasus lowered herself to the ice flats below. Now grounded, Iceheart rushed ahead to meet the yeti.

“Wait, you can’t be serious,” Noire said. Trixie echoed the sentiment, but was unable to even speak the words.

“She is,” Aurora muttered.

It seemed too unreal to actually be happening, but it was. As Iceheart charged forward, the yeti that had been pursuing Snowpeak slowed down, apparently baffled by a creature only a fraction its size running at it instead of away from it. Only seconds before the impact did the yeti think to actually block the forthcoming attack, standing up its hind legs and crossing its front legs over its barrel.

Trixie had seen strong Earth ponies before, but only a few stood out, such as one pony whom she had worked on the rock farm with. Iceheart was definitely on the upper echelon, as the Crystal Earth pony struck the yeti’s crossed legs, smashing into it with enough force to send the creature of the barren north stumbling and falling onto its back.

Iceheart didn’t stop, as she quickly grabbed one of the yeti’s feet, wrapping her front hooves and legs around the larger creature’s appendage. Suddenly, she swung her hips and upper barrel skywards. It took nearly a full second, but that second seemed to crawl for an eternity, as the yeti’s body moved in slow-motion, before it achieved liftoff.

Before Trixie and Noire knew it, Iceheart swung the yeti’s entire bulk over her head, before slamming it back down into the ground again.

“What the-“ Trixie broke off, as a snow cloud enveloped the area, reducing visibility to zero. Maud Pie was stronger, but seeing any Earth pony lift a creature manifold her own weight was a feat of strength that nevertheless left Trixie breathless.

The air seemed still, no pony daring to even breathe as the kicked-up powder hung in the air. This close, the snow cloud was beautiful, the rays of the sun bouncing off and illuminating every individual snowflake, even as it was unable to penetrate the depths. At last the visibility improved, the snow either settling or being carried away on light winds.

Iceheart and the yeti were both standing on four hooves, looking at one another.

They were too far away for Trixie to see their faces, but she imagined Iceheart had a resolute expression, something where her eyes were just a little bit harder and her lips curled just a little tighter than her normal expression. Even imagining it left Trixie a little bit nervous. That look could as easily be turned on Trixie and Noire if Iceheart took a disliking to them.

Iceheart took a step forward.

The yeti didn’t move.

Iceheart stepped forward again.

The yeti’s front hooves moved back, curling in on itself.

Iceheart moved once more.

The yeti quickly turned around, running north, back into the snowstorm induced by the Windigo fossils.

“Occasionally, a creature wanders in from the north. Most of them leave after a while, but a few of them stick around, testing their limits, coming in closer and closer to the castle,” Aurora said.

Trixie took a look over at the pegasus, and blinked. She’s crying? Why is she crying?

Possibly ignorant of her own tears, Aurora continued on, “In the past, we lost a few good ponies to the carnivores. Iceheart was heartbroken by each death. She felt each of them could be averted. That’s when we decided to chase away every monster that gets close, before they can harm somepony. I should have taken that yeti I saw yesterday more seriously, it must have gotten closer than I realised.”

“This was before the stasis, right?” Noire asked, watching as Iceheart turned around, interacting with Snowpeak and the pegasus pony briefly before the three of them started moving back towards the castle. “Wouldn’t the Windigos have been a danger then as well?”

“It was. That’s why Iceheart insisted in going out personally on every mission,” Aurora said, sighing. “She has the greatest resistance to the cold of all of us. She and she alone can head outdoors with a fully trimmed coat. Iceheart did her utmost to keep the rest of us safe. When we returned, most ponies left for home. They might have nothing but nice words to say about her, but their opinions would never change the minds of everypony else at home.”

Aurora took a deep breath, and exhaled an even deeper breath, her shoulders sagging. “I don’t blame my family. They had to suffer under King Sombra. I’ve seen the scars on their bodies they incurred from his rule, and here I am, physically unmarked as a result of being up here. They see the commander as, I don’t know, perhaps that she enabled his rule by not attempting to rise up against him, or that she should have suffered. But they don’t really know what it was like up here.”

All three ponies in the area were silent again for several minutes, as at last Iceheart and the two ponies she had in tow entered the gates at the northern foot of the castle. Finally, Aurora said, “Hey.”

“Hmm? What?” Noire asked.

“You’re not really here for research on Windigos, are you?”

There wasn’t much point in denying it if Aurora had seen through them with her red-and-purple eyes, but Trixie felt she had to defend herself and Noire at least a little bit. “It was part of why we came up here. But no, it wasn’t the only reason,” She conceded.

Aurora narrowed her eyes, and she said, “I see. I don’t know what these other reasons are that you came here for are, but as you can see, we’re practically a family here. You know, all of us have occasionally returned to the Empire to visit friends and family, all of us except Iceheart. She has accepted her status as an outcast. It’s like she might have mentioned, she intends to die here.”

Trixie felt as if she was being lectured, but she held her tongue. This was somepony opening up and giving them information, and Aurora was continuing to do that, as she said, “But Iceheart allows almost anypony who comes up north here to stay. Some of them are extreme tourists, some of them were researchers just like you two say you are, and some of them have other purposes, even some other Equestrian military ponies who once checked the place out. Every time, Iceheart asks them to share with us stories of the outside world, of how Equestria has changed over the last thousand years, and she’ll no doubt ask you at tonight’s dinner, or maybe tomorrow night’s. She enjoys hearing them, because they’re the only way she’ll ever experience this brave new world.”

“So, please, don’t take advantage of her generosity. We would have to make your stay uncomfortable if you did.”

Aurora let the threat hang in the air. Trixie marveled at the strength of will Iceheart was able to inspire in the pegasus pony. Whether Iceheart had embraced her choice to stay in this fort with gusto or felt pushed into it, her subordinates didn’t lack for loyalty.

Chancing another look out the castle, Aurora said, “Come on, I’ll take you downstairs. You can meet Snowpeak, and we’ll have breakfast.”


Well-Known Member
'Stasis: Iceheart'

This chapter is big enough to fit over this post and the next.

“So what were the deerfolk like?”

“The deer are mostly a gentle race. The bucks can be quick to anger, but their rage subsides quickly, and it’s rare for them to hold a grudge. Few of them practice magic, but what few shamans they do have share a lot in common with the zebra.”

“What about their kingdom?”

“Their kingdom has many forests, dark green as far as the eye can see, fruits and flowers of a thousand different colours, and streams that are so clear you can see the individual rocks on the riverbed. It's, it's like you can achieve inner peace within a few hours of staying in one of their forests, but a deer can feel just as home on a meadow as they would under the trees.”

The early morning excitement had faded away, and as day passed into evening, Trixie found she was no longer the one asking questions, and instead the one being interrogated as she had let slip that she had traveled extensively. Fortunately, Trixie was armed with many tales to tell, and she quickly fell into the camaraderie of the Crystal ponies around the dinner table, regaling them with gusto of her adventures in far-flung lands.

The Crystal Ponies had lost out on a thousand years of history, and they ate up her every word with gusto. These were the ponies that Trixie especially felt good about entertaining when that had been her career, the ones who lived in isolated places with little to do. That they were filling up her secondary pool of magic in their enraptured state didn’t hurt.

“If I ever get a vacation, I’d much love to take a trip overseas,” Snowpeak sighed. After he had been looked over by the nurse and given a clear billing, followed by his report, he had become acquainted with Trixie and Noire. A Crystal Earth pony, he had a dark blue coat with a mane of pure white, his crystalline body practically glittering. “Maybe a big island somewhere, someplace that has a high mountain and a jungle lower down.”

“Perhaps Haywaii?” Trixie suggested. “I’ve never been there, it’s an island chain formed from several volcanos, only two of which are active now. The inactive volcanos formed large, wide mountains, and there’s several tropical rainforests. It’s only about two days sailing from western Equestria.”

“Maybe. I’ll have to look into it,” Snowpeak said. “The Imperial government prefers us to abstain on collecting our pay so long as we have room and board here. From my understanding, they are still not quite finished converting to Equestrian currency.”

“It’s a slow process,” Diamond Dust said from across the table, having just finished off a piece of fish. “But we’re getting there.”

“Canterlot was what, barely a village on a mountain a thousand years ago?” Noire spoke up. “I guess some of you might have visited the old castle in the Everfree when it was the seat of the Princesses.”

“I did, at least. I remember it well, and it feels strange to have heard from others that it is now a run-down and abandoned castle, in the middle of an outgrown forest. I visited a few times as a courier between the Empire and Equestria before Sombra took over. While the Everfree existed at the time, it was merely a bigger version of the other forests I went to over the years in Equestria. It had wide paths and large clearings though, and ponies put effort into cultivating the individual trees and flowers. They let the flora grow on its own in other areas,” Iceheart said. "On occasion, you would be able to see some of the larger creatures such as an Ursa Minor out foraging for food from the forest. It was a rare treat to see an Ursa Major, something I never got to do, unfortunately."

Trixie shivered at the mention of the Ursa clan. Even years later, she would still wake up in the night, having broken out in a cold sweat, the yellow-and-red eyes of the star bear forever haunting her.

"It's apparently gotten a little bit better over the last few years. The Castle in the Everfree Forest is off-limits, though I expect there's probably the occasional looter and vagrant there, I don't think it's enforced that much," Noire said.

They probably think all the monsters in there would keep ponies away...unless you're a pair of foolish, idiotic colts Trixie thought.

"Maybe when we finally get out of here, we can start a tourism company of our own?" Power Blue suggested. "I'm sure there must be at least a few ponies and creatures of the other races who would view the north as an adventure, rather than just someplace that is really cold."

Diamond Dust wrinkled his nose at the suggestion, "That would seem to be more Polaris' thing, you know how he loves mountain climbing. A few more years of service, then I think I'll have had enough time outside the dome for a lifetime."

"There is the abandoned outpost east of here," Iceheart mused. "That would be better to launch expeditions of whatever sort from. There is no Windigo ice in the way from there."

It was amazing how, even under what were grueling conditions in the frozen beyond, the Crystal Ponies were still able to freely banter with ease. Trixie envied that of them. They had gone through a shared hardship, and showed no signs of being forced to their knees by their continuing duty. She might have been like that, had she graduated from Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns and achieved what had been but a fleeting dream of working in a research laboratory, butting heads with others over magical theory.

No, Trixie scolded herself. She needed to continue looking forward, never backwards. That way laid a pile of disasters she needed to leave behind.

The food disappeared all too quickly. Despite the limited variety, Powder Blue and her assistant did phenomenal work with butter and spices, and Trixie found herself wanting for more. If she tried hard enough, she could almost will the illusion of the taste of cooked vegetables onto her tongue, satisfying her pangs. After quickly helping to clean up, Trixie and Noire found themselves retiring for the night back to their room.


“Whew,” Noire let out a breath as she opened the door back up to their private quarters again, walking in. “I didn’t even know you went to the Minotaur country once.”

“It was something. Seeing that yeti this morning reminded me a little bit of seeing a minotaur wrestling match once. Because they stood on their hind legs and charged, that is.”

“I wonder who would win in a wrestling match between a minotaur and Iceheart,” Noire said as she closed the doors.

“Likely Iceheart,” Trixie said. “I worked with an Earth pony once who was able to crush boulders with her bare hooves. Unless the minotaur was as trained as Maud Pie was, he wouldn’t be as strong as Iceheart.”

“Well, there’s more to wrestling than raw strength,” Argued Noire. “A minotaur would have superior reach, and a pony with her smaller size would have a difficult time pinning a minotaur down. She would have to deliver a decisive first blow to leave him winded, and a minotaur is going to be far smarter than a yeti is.”

The amusing argument the two had going between them was interrupted by a knock on the door. Noire looked over at Trixie, and the two exchanged a look in which neither knew who it was. Noire gave a brief shrug before going over to open the door.

The batpony was surprised as she saw who had been knocking. “Oh, Commander Iceheart,” Noire said. “What can we do for you?”

Iceheart practically glided in, looking around the room, “I wanted to make sure your accommodations were acceptable,” The purple-coated Crystal pony said. “We do not get very many visitors out here, and I endeavor to make certain every pony who does at least has a comfortable time of it.”

“Well, it’s an old castle, though that’s chronologically. I don’t know how physically old it actually is, but what I mean is that a lot of the building technology here is outdated. I don’t know how many creature comforts your ponies are allowed to have, but I would have expected there to be at least warm water. I was able to heat it up with magic, but still,” Trixie commented.

“So I have heard before,” Iceheart said, not appearing to take any offense. “We had many magical glyphs engraved into the building, but the stasis adversely affected them. When we returned, we quickly repaired and repowered the ones that were responsible for the castle’s defense. When it comes to those that are for more personal use, we repaired what was required for our reduced garrison”

“So these rooms didn’t get fixed up?” Noire asked.

“That is correct. All the unicorns who were competent have since left. In Sombra’s Empire, we never hosted ponies before, so we never expected the occasional tourist we got. I am glad that you were at least able to get warm water, albeit through a roundabout method.”

Trixie frowned, For a commander she is being unusually talkative with us. Why is that?

It didn’t take long for her to realise it. After all, Noire had said as much directly to Iceheart the day before. The Crystal Earth pony was lonely.

She had commanded a half a thousand ponies, only for nineteen out of every twenty to leave after losing a thousand years to history. Of those who remained, they looked up to her far too much for her to confide in. In this strange new world, the only other possible home she could go to resented her.

Trixie didn’t know if Iceheart was repressing her emotions, or if her near-perfect composure was simply the way she was. What Trixie knew was that life had dealt Iceheart a sad set of circumstances.

That’s it, isn’t it? She’s a lot like me. My desire to learn magic was ended by a fluke of bad luck. I bounced back though, but…My new, simple dream of travelling and bringing joy to other ponies was crushed in that miserable little hamlet. After father’s death, for two years, I hid myself away from the world. I had friends to confide in in Whinnychester, but none who knew our family’s closest-held secret, and how that changed almost everything.

“You didn’t come here just to talk to us about our room, did you?” Trixie asked.

Iceheart bowed her head at Trixie's words. Having been found out, she said, "You didn't just come here for research on Windigos either, did you?"

"It was the main reason," Noire said. "Not specifically research but, well, my tribe is tightly-knit, and we carry many ancestral memories with us. We remember the terror of the Windigos better than others do. I decided to come out here, with Trixie's help, to see what was going on first-hoof."

"That seems more plausible. Truthfully, however, I did not come to talk about that. Rather, I was more interested in hearing some more about your travails," Iceheart said, gesturing at Trixie. "It sounds as if you have journeyed across a large swathe of the continent, if not beyond."

"I've never been off the continent, but I have been across Equestria, as well as some of the neighboring countries."

"Yes, and I notice you never truly mentioned just what it was that you did while travelling, how you supported yourself. Were you a writer, perhaps? It is difficult to follow your prose sometimes, we are a thousand years out of date after all, but you painted some vivid descriptions."

Trixie said, "Not quite, but you're close. I was a travelling showpony. In some areas, I would show off magic tricks that were well beyond the capability of any local unicorn. In other locations, I would use magic and props to re-enact plays. Sometimes, such as here, I would merely speak as a storyteller, whether of legends and myths or of what I have seen wherever I have gone. It all came down to the culture of the location, really."

"And I truly appreciate that you came here, all the same," Iceheart said. "The ponies here are tough to have stayed here as long as they have, but even though they are my friends, I would not want them to stay here one minute longer if the Empire were to ever send us new ponies."

"Even you?"

A flash of emotion passed through Iceheart's eyes, almost too quick for Trixie to see. It wasn't annoyance, but Trixie didn't have enough time to quite analyse it, and Iceheart was always a hard pony to read. She was so well-composed, even the senses of the Changeling Trixie had inherited from her father were hard-pressed to get a feel for Iceheart. Whatever it had been, it didn't make it into Iceheart's voice, her tone the same warm near-monotone as always, "When my body begins to age and I can no longer patrol the north and deflect the wild creatures, I suppose. So long as that Windigo ice remains, however, I will be here. There simply is no other pony who can tolerate this cold as well as I can."

Trixie scrunched her muzzle. Even though she's said it before, what a depressing outlook...I feel for her, isn't there anything I could do? There wasn't, really. The Crystal Ponies had told her nopony known could destroy the Windigo ice. The Princesses might be able to, but Trixie was no Princess.

Wait...wasn't there one thing?

"You know, when I was travelling, I also learned magic from other ponies and even the other races. Not all magic was compatible with unicorns, and it was all informal learning, with no real direction. I might be talented in one field, and laughable in another," Trixie said, quickly drawing attention from both Iceheart and Noire. Even though the three had already been huddled in conversation, the way Trixie was speaking implied an intense subject matter. "However, something that I truly enjoyed, something I was able to easily do, was illusions."

"Illusions?" Iceheart asked, even as Noire frowned beside her.

"Yes, illusions. At its most basic, an illusion is a deception. It's possible to create an illusion without magic, through sleight-of-hoof techniques. When it comes to magic, however, there's a field full of depth and breadth. When I put on shows, I used illusions for the sight and sound components. Most wouldn't think of something like that as an illusion, but it is."

Trixie's horn shone, and then suddenly, in the air, there appeared an Ursa Minor. Trixie could feel her heart beating, could hear the rapid pulsing of blood in her head, but a rational mind reassured the body that this was merely something she had conjured up, and wasn't real. It was only a foot long, too, nowhere near the size of the real Ursa Minor. Trixie swallowed, and she said, "Something like this, a dozen times over, and you have a play. Many rural areas don't have a theatre - er, do you know what a theatre is?"

"Originally, it was a place where actors acted out a story, typically directed by a playwright on a stage with the use of props and magic. Today, in modern lingo, it is a place where ponies gather to watch a series of pictures scrolling at fast speed from a projector to create the impression of a seamless image called a movie," Iceheart said. The face cracked, though it was an expression of uncertainty than any real emotion, "Right?"

"That's-well, that's technically true," Noire said, biting a lip. "The real experience is far different than describing it, however."

"Right, well, um, most rural places don't have a theatre, so I provide them entertainment. But each of those illusions are temporary. They only last as long as the spellcaster fuels them with magic. Some spells can be anchored to continue indefinitely so long as there is a source of power. But some spells are so strong that they're essentially permanent, unless they can be dispelled by a magician even more talented at illusions."

This time, Noire was definitely alarmed, her eyes wide and eyebrows furled, lips open even as her teeth were clenched.

"I think the Witch King did something like that once, to hide the Crystal Heart. What I am told was that he used dark magic to achieve the effect, however," Iceheart said in a questioning tone.

"What I do definitely isn't dark magic," Trixie hastened to explain, as the Ursa Minor disappeared. Given the exposure of the Crystal ponies to King Sombra, it would be unwise to talk too much about anything they might reasonably compare to his own powers, and so Trixie needed to clear that up quickly. "Dark magic leaves a taint on a pony, and I've never used dark magic." It was a truth with a hole wide enough to pull a cart through. Even if she hadn't used dark magic itself, she had definitely once and still been affected by a dark magic artifact.

Iceheart narrowed her eyes. The talk of dark magic had appeared to really shake her. There was a tantalising hint of something lurking below the surface. When her father was alive, Trixie would sometimes describe to him her feelings of the emotions of others in colours, but this was a drab grey, lacking any identifying features. Still, Trixie could all too easily read the 'Go on' in the expression.

So she did. "Illusions, specifically magical illusions, isn't really a field that gets much attention by unicorns, or other races. It's a finicky thing to use beyond what I just did there with the Ursa Minor, which is why I doubt what Sombra used was even an illusion, but likely something else like a suggestion spell to influence ponies to not looking to deep into where ever his hidden passage was. I assume that's what it was anyways, since you said he hid the Heart away. Only those who delve deep into the field and get experience with it can truly move beyond the basics. I did so many plays and tinkered so much I was even able to get a coveted slot at the Greatest Outdoor Show in Equestria."

"I see. That sounds impressive, at least," Iceheart said. "If you stay much longer, perhaps you can do a full show for my ponies. I am certain we can clear out a space large enough for you to perform if you require it."

"That's a possibility," Trixie said. "But, well, for so long, I never really stepped out of my comfort zone. I specialised in my illusions, but I lacked the desire, the ambition to delve deeper. Until recently," She said, and swallowed, nervousness causing pinpricks of sensation on her forehead. "Recently, I was one of the very few who have been able to create a permanent illusion. I changed how something looks permanently. The only way anypony could tell otherwise is if he or she suspected there was an illusion, and was also powerful enough to dispel it. Maybe the Princesses could do it, but I don't know of anypony else powerful enough to do such a thing today." Trixie had, after all, used the power of the black moon to anchor Noire's new form.

"Trixie," Noire said, deathly calm. Trixie, however, could feel the damp-like fear lurking under the surface. Noire's eyes were narrowed, looking almost like the slit eyes some ponies for some reason thought bat ponies had, "Just what are you talking about?"

"Yes, I am curious, myself," Iceheart added. "While what you describe sounds intriguing, I am uncertain what relevance this has, given we were originally talking about the north."

"It took me quite some time, but the pieces are finally beginning to click together in my head," Trixie said. "I read a book recently that provided the final spark, but I know how to extend the power of illusions even further. An illusion is something meant to deceive somepony else, but even if nobody is still looking, it's still active. One could almost say that an illusion is attempting to trick reality."

Noire frowned. She was still angry, but now she too was curious about what Trixie was trying to say, "But an illusion only fools the senses, right? If you cast an illusion to hide an object, the thing is still there. If it's really good, you might be able to make a pony think something isn't there even if she can feel it, but that's it. If you create the illusion of a door over a wall, then a pony is still going to walk into a wall when she attempts to go through the door."

"And you would be correct. But what if an illusion could go beyond even that?" Trixie asked, looking over at Iceheart to see if the Crystal pony was following. To the commander's credit, Iceheart's eyes weren't glazed over like other ponies did when Trixie attempted to discuss magical theory with them, and she was nodding along with their conversation. "What if an illusion was so intricate, and so powerful that instead of merely creating the impression of your eponymous door in the wall, there actually was a door in the wall? An illusion so great that it actually does fool the world itself. No, more than even that, it wouldn't so much fool the world as basically make it believe there always was a door there. 'This is the way things were and always have been therefore this is the way things are', so to speak."

"That sounds less like illusions and more like...well, I'm not a unicorn, so I never had a reason to study magic in-depth outside of what the Windigos used and cold tolerance, but that certainly does not sound like an illusion," Iceheart said. "Well, it does sound genuinely interesting. But once more, what does that have to do with your being here?"

"I'm getting to that," Trixie said. Walking over to a small table, she found what she was looking for. "Say, what is the temperature in here?"

"Almost all rooms in the castle that are in use are set to around 530 degrees Flankine, with magical controls keeping it close to that level. This room doesn't have the magical control, so it should be slightly cooler. It seems to be rather warm in here, however. Did you keep the fireplace in here running earlier?" Iceheart asked.

Trixie walked over, hoofing Iceheart what she had found: a thermostat, measured out in an ancient temperature system that had gone defunct hundreds of years ago. The scale was reading over 560 degrees Flankine. "The reading on that gauge is no illusion. Or rather, it is an illusion, but it's not one on the thermostat. To do that, I'd have to cast a visual illusion over the thermostat, then use another spell to convince everypony through their tactile senses that it's getting warmer. Instead, I am convincing the world itself that the temperature in this world is 560 degrees Flankine, and the world is corroborating my illusion."

"This seems all to easy to deduce," Iceheart said. "You are using a heating spell."

Trixie shook her head, and she said, "Not a heating spell. Let me see...here," Trixie said, picking up a small snow globe off another table, presumably left here by a past tourist. With little fanfare, she set the globe on the floor. Trixie's horn glowed a pale violet, and the same colour of violet briefly enveloped the snow globe. "Here, try picking this up."

Iceheart frowned, "I don't see what purpose..." Iceheart trailed off, gripping the snow globe with a hoof, and then picking it up. Or at least, she attempted to. "What the..." Sitting down on her haunches, Iceheart used both front hooves to get a better feel for the globe, only to fail once more. Looking up at Trixie, she said, "It's not attached the floor. What is going on here, exactly?" Iceheart had her brows furled, in the first clear look of frustration Trixie had ever seen on the Crystal Earth pony. Iceheart's confusion flickered around the edges of Trixie's senses.

"Right now, that snow globe weighs several hundred kilograms. I have fooled the world into believing that that is the amount it must weigh," Trixie said. "If you don't mind me chipping the floor in here a little bit..." Casting magic again, she lifted up the snow globe. Then she stopped her magic from holding it in the air.


"Commander, are you alright?!" Aurora asked, in the room within moments. She had been quick on her hooves, going from her guard position outside the room to opening the door and getting inside.

"I-yes, I'm alright," Iceheart said, not removing her eyes from in front of her.

The snow globe had shattered once it fell, a small amount of water and glass sprayed around the floor. What was more important to Iceheart was the solid chip of rock that had been scored off with the snow globe's impact.

"Trixie here was just giving me a demonstration of something magic. That is all. I apologise Aurora, I should have thought to inform you beforehoof so that you would not be alarmed."

Aurora took a deep breath in. A lifetime of developing observation skills allowed Trixie to tell that the other mare was deep into her fight-or-flight response: quick, rapid breaths, diluted pupils and twitchy muscles. Internally, Aurora was a chaotic whirlwind of emotions, panic, fear, excitement and surprise in her own unique mixture. To Aurora's credit, she had been nevertheless composed, and her frame became steady with calm breathing. "Very well, commander," The green-furred pegasus said as she retreated out into the hallway, closing the door behind her.

Iceheart watched her leave, before turning around. Taking a brief glance at the water and glass over the floor, Iceheart looked back up at Trixie and said, "I do not know how difficult it would be, but it would seem to me magic to manipulate the mass, or perhaps the gravity exerted on an object would exist. But I do not believe you are trying to lie to me either, so what was the point of showing this to me?"

Trixie felt her throat run dry. It was now or never. She had already revealed her ability to Iceheart, now she would have to put herself out there, "I think, theoretically, I might be able to do something about the Windigo ice using my magic."

Iceheart attempted to reply, only to stop right before she could speak her first word. Her mouth hang open slightly, eyes as impassive as ever. Seconds passed, before finally Iceheart said, "Oh, was that all?"

Was that all? Trixie wanted to say most magicians would have been stunned if they even understood the ramifications of what she had done, but she was cut off as Iceheart laughed for the first time Trixie and Noire had been in her presence.

It wasn't a nice laugh. It was short, to-the-point, and bitter. It was so full of hurt that Trixie's heart nearly broke just listening to it, and it was coupled with a torrent of rage that had broken over the dam surrounding Iceheart's heart. "Who put you up to this?" Iceheart asked, her voice growing as cold as her as the barren outdoors. "Somepony thought it would be funny to send a pony to get my hopes up even for a second? Was it Frostbite? Or maybe it was that accursed Snow Sigil? Did they put this idea into your head, or did you know about their intentions and went along with the whole thing?!" Iceheart's voice grew louder and louder, until she was almost hollering, and Trixie was surprised Aurora hadn't come running back in yet.

"I-it wasn't somepony else's idea!" Trixie said hastily. Trixie was surprised. She thought she was good at standing up against others, but here she was, intimated by a seething Crystal pony. "I really mean it! I can really change how objects are supposed to be with illusions! That's why I think I can maybe destroy the ice!"

"Really? Really?!" Iceheart asked mockingly. Her jaw was clenched, the sinews of her neck visibly bulging. "I have tolerated those ponies in the Empire because they directly suffered under Sombra's rule. I accepted their resentment, but I did not realise they were so immature as to constantly harass me even from afar, and nearly banish me in all but name." The Crystal Earth pony had fully lost her composure, pacing back and forth across the floor, unminding of the water and shattered glass, occasionally swiping at the air with a hoof. "Perhaps they should come up here and see how they like exposure to the Windigo Ice. I highly doubt most of them would last five minutes vis-a-vis with a Windigo itself."

Bringing her hoof up to tug a lock of her white mane, Iceheart made to rant again, only to pause, jaw once more left hanging open. She quickly snapped it shut, and with a single breath, Iceheart's composure was restored, albeit with fissures and cracks not unlike the ice she was named after. Trixie could still feel Iceheart's anger, but now it was condensed, wound up again, perhaps waiting years before it could uncoil again in the heat of a moment. "I apologise that you had to see that. You aren't from the Empire, and it would be unlike them to recruit a foreigner into their schemes. Regardless, you said something about getting rid of the Windigo ice." Iceheart narrowed her eyes, as suspicious as any pony had a right to be under the circumstances given Trixie's claim to being able to perform a miracle, and she said, "I find that incredibly dubious. Even if what you say about your magic is true, I doubt it would work on an object the scale of the Windigo ice. Remember that the ice is also resistant to magic, so that is assuming you can even affect it in the first place with a spell."

Not just her throat, now Trixie's tongue was dry too. It was as if she had been chewing sand: all the moisture in her mouth had disappeared, and she found herself unable to speak. She was at an impasse, having foolishly revealed a new talent that even Noire had known little of, and squandering her goodwill with her host, all to achieve something Trixie was unsure she could even pull off. Why had she even spoken up about this?

Trixie looked around, fidgeting in place, trying to look anywhere other than Iceheart's face. It was of no use: Noire, the only other pony in the room, was also frowning. She wasn't happy either.

Wait. Maybe that was it. Forgive me, Noire, Trixie thought to herself. I hate to do this, but this might be the only way to convince Iceheart otherwise. Was she a foolish pony who still hadn't learned her lesson to be doubling down like this? Perhaps those above could tell her, but Trixie only had her own wits coupled with the empathy she had honed over a lifetime of being able to sense emotions without requiring them for sustenance. There was a chance she could help this pony and the entire garrison stationed here, and Trixie would forever feel guilty if she backed down now. Her conscience would haunt her with the question 'Could I have done something?' Trixie didn't want that, and questions of selfishness and selflessness be damned.

"This may sound a little bit of an odd question, but have you ever heard of the Changelings?"

Iceheart didn't frown, but she did cock her head as she said, "Of course. A strange subclass of equines with vaguely beetle-like features, capable of perfectly taking the shape of a pony, and feeding off the emotions of others. They were around before the stasis in small numbers, though Sombra executed any he found within the kingdom. It seems they hid away from the world at large shortly after we disappeared, and emerged for an invasion of Canterlot right before we reappeared."

Trixie stood up high, no longer slouching. Locking her gaze with Iceheart's blue eyes, she said, "Not every Changeling belongs to the hive that invaded Canterlot. A small number of Changelings married ponies over the year. I should know. My father was a Changeling and my mother was a pony."

Noire had by this time backed up slightly, head darting back and forth. Trixie flashed her a brief glance meant to be reassuring, before turning back to Iceheart. The commander was visibly surprised, as she said, "The child of a Changeling and a pony? I have heard of them, though they were rare. They were as anathema to the King as Changelings themselves were, and those who fled the Empire before the stasis would have died long ago."

Trixie breathed, relieved. She had gambled on Iceheart being mostly agnostic about Changelings, given her background as a Crystal pony, who had not reappeared until after the failed wedding in Canterlot, and adjusting to this strange new world. Now to press forward. "Yes, and I am one of them. I cannot transform like a Changeling has, not even close. But I was fascinated with my father's ability to transform. It isn't a simple illusion, either. Changelings actually change wholesale, their entire physical form morphs to imitate a pony or other species. But father said it is in fact an illusion, albeit an advanced one, but also one he does automatically without thinking. He never even thought to attempt to reverse-engineer, and I never thought to ask him before he died. But it's thanks to him I even was interested in illusions, and it might be because he was a Changeling that I even inherited some talent."

"Hmmm," Iceheart said, lowering her head until it almost touched the floor. The Crystal Earth pony was oddly retrospective, standing silent for a few minutes, before she at last brought her head back up and said, "You really think you might actually be able to do something to that Windigo ice?"

"Think," Trixie stressed, not wanting to oversell herself now that she seemed to have gotten Iceheart's ear. "I don't know for a fact. I could easily get rid of regular ice, but I don't know about magical ice." That, and no matter what she tried, using the spell on an animate thing such as an insect always fizzled out. Was there something about living creatures that resisted a change in reality?

"Very well. Get a good night's sleep. We will leave in the morning."

Trixie's head jerked in surprise, looking back up at Iceheart. "Pardon?"

"You wanted to go see the Windigo ice closer up. I will take you there, and Noire as well if she desires. The snowstorm should be tame tomorrow, so that is the best time to go. Unless you believe you need another day to prepare before heading out?"

Just like that? Trixie thought. A brief thought flitted through her mind, that Iceheart intended to take them out there to kill Trixie and perhaps Noire, but nothing she felt from the other pony hinted at deception. Granted, Trixie was no Changeling, and her senses were muted in comparison to her father's, but they hadn't failed her yet.

"No, I don't need another day. If I can't do it tomorrow, an extra day's practice is unlikely to help me the next day."

Iceheart regarded Trixie coolly. Finally, she said, "In that event, I hope you succeed. I would love to be rid of that accursed ice." With that, Iceheart turned around, pushing the door open, and trotting out. As she closed the door, Trixie could hear Iceheart and Aurora talking, though their words were muffled.

Trixie was immediately spun around, Noire having accosted her to do so. "What. Was. That?" Noire hissed. Trixie was nearly overwhelmed by a complex swirl of emotions emanating from Noire that she could only describe as a powerful feeling of being betrayed.

"She's a kindred soul, Noire," Trixie said. "She's spent so much time already here. Ponies don't think there's much of value in holding a fortress this far north when there's nothing but snow around. Even some of the ponies here think the same, but Iceheart doesn't care. She's determined to stay here until she dies so long as the ice is a potential threat."

"That's still not what I was talking about!" Noire said, thumping Trixie's chest with a hoof every few syllables. The batpony was visibly agitated, with her wings buzzing fast enough to generate a high pitch noise. "I was talking about your fool decision to talk about my appearance and our heritage!"

Trixie had figured as much. Keeping her voice calm and level so as to not agitate Noire any further, Trixie said, "I only mentioned that I had created a permanent illusion, not on who I had cast it. I didn't even say that it was a who I cast it on, it's far more likely to infer what I cast it on. The same for our heritage: I only said that I was the daughter of a Changeling. I never mentioned anything about you."

"She'll be suspicious anyways," Noire argued. "She'll wonder if I knew about you, and then she'll wonder about me, and from there it's not too much to put two and two together and think my dad was a Changeling too which, oh right, he was."

"If we fail, she'll still be here, at the castle. She seems unlikely to tell anypony else given her detachment from the world and not being around for the Changeling invasion. I doubt the ponies here are on orders to report any potential Changelings. If we succeed, Iceheart might leave, but she'll be too grateful to report us, especially since again, we're not even actual Changelings."

"Not if we succeed, if you succeed," Noire said, gritting her teeth together. Her body was tense. Noire closed her eyes. After a few seconds, she exhaled. Noire's entire body trembled with the deep breath out, as she relaxed her rigid pose. Opening her eyes, Noire said, "You think you actually have a chance, then? You can actually physically alter objects, not through transformation spells, but by convincing reality that an illusion isn't an illusion, that it's actually real? Really?"

"I know it sounds like bunk," Trixie admitted. "But no, it's actually real. Even before you came to Whinnychester, I already had an inkling that illusions might actually able to change reality itself. When I was able to permanently anchor the spell on you, my suspicions were confirmed: your actual Cutie Mark changed, something that merely changing your looks wouldn't have been able to. I toyed with it, and made a breakthrough shortly before we left as I was able to change a small wooden cube I had sitting around. I wasn't entirely honest a few days ago about that book I found, the one written by Blackbeak: his words on reality being a shared illusion might actually have some truth to them."

Noire brought a hoof up to her forehead, pressing it hard to stave off an incoming migraine. She had to think about this.

It wasn't really much of a decision. Setting her hoof back down, Noire said, "I'm coming with you tomorrow."

Trixie was relieved at that. "I was hoping you might, and worried you wouldn't. Thank you," She said, bringing her own limb up to give Noire a hug.

"Don't thank me just yet," Noire groused. "Actually pull this off tomorrow. You said you didn't want to talk to her until you found something to better yourself at. Succeed, and then we will have something good to report when we head south."


There was a marked hustle and bustle to the castle that Trixie and Noire hadn't seen in their first two days there. Ponies were running around in a frenzy. Even though Iceheart had made the offer only the night before, things had progressed quickly, a testament to the military precision of the Crystal ponies.

"Any time somepony goes out close to the Windigo Ice, the rest of us have to prepare," Powder Blue explained over their quick breakfast. "We'll double our watch on the north side to keep an eye out on the ice and trade signals with magical flares between the tower and the pony heading out to communicate ongoing weather conditions. In the event the expedition party runs into trouble, a quick response team will move out to rescue the party." Powder Blue paused, then she added, "Of course, given it's the commander who is taking you out there, I doubt we will be required. All the same, it is thanks to her drills and plans that we not yet lost a single pony."

The Crystal ponies had found new outfits for Trixie and Noire that were of better quality than the ones they had worn to the fort. Unlike what they wore before, this time the two ponies were fully outfitted, with clothes that covered every bit of their body, including tail-wraps and snowboots for their hooves. Masks covered their heads, with tinted goggles rounding it off for eye protection. In Trixie's case, a small hole was made for her horn to fit through, the horn of a unicorn being a poor conductor of heat and magic being too useful to block off physical spells. Other than that, only their mouths were left uncovered, so that the three could talk to one another when leaving.

Even Iceheart was wearing something when they first saw her, a great indicator of how treacherous the route leading up to the ice could be..

The day had yet to break. Visibility was slowly beginning to improve as the twilight hours were washed away, but Iceheart had decided to leave early so there was plenty of daylight left in the event something bad occurred. Trixie had promised to use her magic to light the way for the first bit until they had enough natural light.

"This is your last chance to back out," Iceheart said to Trixie as the three ponies stood at the castle's north entrance, having just gone over a final inventory check with Noire. "Nopony will think less of you here, and if you are certain that you cannot pull this off, it will be better not to waste time and effort going out."

"I said it was possible, and I still think it. Let's go," Trixie said.

In truth, Trixie felt her heart fluttering nervously. Even as she said those words, uncertainty gnawed away at her resolve. The idea that a mere illusion could change things on a physical level permanently instead of merely altering one's perception of the surface was ludicrous. Trixie had claimed she had done it. Her feelings had been backed up when she had changed the physical shape of an object, and felt it with her hooves to verify its dimensions had changed, from a square to a pentagon. No illusion that merely fooled the eyes would also fool the sense of touch. But was it something that Trixie had truly done, or was she merely pulling off a trick of a different scale, one where she deceived herself? And even if Trixie was right, and she had gone beyond what any esteemed illusionist before her had, would it be possible to perform her magic on something like Windigo ice?

But boldness had thus far taken Trixie away from Whinnychester to the Crystal Empire, and then beyond, into the frozen north. Trixie would not, could not shy away now.

"Very well," was Iceheart's response.

At last it was just light enough out that Iceheart judged that they could leave, and so Noire, Trixie and Iceheart ventured outdoors.


Iceheart lead the way, as she was the most familiar with the territory, giving terse remarks every so often to watch their step. The commander was graceful and patient, waiting for Trixie and Noire to catch up, since they were slower and awkward with their snowboots. The small, rolling hills the trio encountered quickly gave way to the more level ground that gave name to the ice flats.

Trixie found the tinted goggles a blessing she never knew she needed, having squinted most of the time on her way from the Crystal Empire to the fort. Fortunately, the cloud cover broke as the morning sun rose, so there was always a blue sky to look up to instead of a dreary white.

It didn't take long for her to feel the effects of the Windigo Ice. As she marched behind Iceheart, providing light from the rear, Trixie could feel the temperature beginning to drop, and the wind speed slowly picking up. At first, it was subtle: it was easier to tell they were getting closer by the larger and larger piles of snow deposited by the intense snowstorms that occurred around the Ice. Soon, however, Trixie found herself shivering even through the extra-thick layer of clothing she wore.

At last, Iceheart called a stop, for which Trixie was glad. Briefly taking a look back, Trixie saw the red castle in the distance, a shining beacon against the world of white. That's how far we got?! She thought to herself, astonished. Trixie and Noire had covered a far greater distance from the Crystal Empire to the fortress in a little over half a day. By contrast, the three had barely moved from the castle, and Trixie was still able to pick out individual features in the structure.

Now that they had treaded ground and gotten away from the castle, Trixie was able to see the outline of the Ice in greater detail, perhaps five thousand hoof-lengths away. She had expected it to be a large, glacier-sized block of ice, but the reality was far more subdued: it appeared to be no greater than the size of a few houses put together. Such a block of ice in the middle of the Crystal Empire would have supposedly destroyed the city upon its return.

Trixie swallowed. Somehow its smaller size just made the ice more intimidating.

"We won't be able to get much closer than this. The snowstorm is tame today, but if it worsens I do not wish to be caught too close to the fossils," Iceheart said. "Please use your heating spells now. Both of you."

Noire just about jumped, her eyes visibly wide even under her tinted goggles, "What are you talking about? I can't use magic like a unicorn can."

Iceheart wrinkled her nose, before saying, "So you mean to tell me you never learned a heating spell, or that you're not part-Changeling like your friend is?"

The living wind howled.

"That's...I'm not," Noire said. Even as she said those simple three words, Noire cursed herself. She had fumbled her secret even as she attempted to deny it, having been caught off-guard by Iceheart.

Iceheart looked out at the Windigo ice, before turning her head back to face Noire, and she said, "I don't care about your reasons for hiding it, Noire. I was given a single duty, to protect against the Windigos, and now that they're gone, the fossils they've left behind and the remains of the bitter north. Besides, don't normal Changelings dislike the cold, anyways?"

Noire thought about holding her tongue, but then she relented. Her secret was out, but somehow she felt more kinship with this strange Crystal Pony, in self-exile from the rest of her people, than with any other pony she had ever met besides Trixie. Perhaps Noire truly sympathised with Iceheart, after seeing her heart and emotions opened up the night before. Noire decided to take the plunge, and she said, "Not especially. The Windigos were an ancestral enemy of the Changelings, more than they were for ponies. They disappeared long before I was born, but my father told me the entire Changeling race released a breath of relief as one when the Windigos disappeared." As an afterthought, Noire added, "I can do a heating spell as well, don't worry. You won't see anything, though. I am not a unicorn, and so my magic does not glow."

With a sigh, Noire wrinkled her nose, and summoned the small amount of magic she reserved for spells.

At once, Trixie could feel the cold being chased away from her body. With heat came the sensation of body parts that had become numb, as she suddenly felt colder again, before finally the heat seeped through her coat and under her skin.

"How convenient. I wish I could be able to do that," Iceheart said at last. Looking over to Trixie, she continued, "There were a few Changelings in the Empire who went out openly before Sombra took over. Some of them were labourers, but others were artisans. What did your fathers do? That is, I am assuming it was Noire's father and not her mother who was the Changeling."

The question was like a punch to the gut for Trixie. Even though she thought of her father many times, actually remembering him and her mother and what they had achieved in their lives was something else altogether. Memories washed ashore in a great tidal wave, sweeping away the barriers she had put up.

"Father, yes father, works with clockworks. He enjoys taking things apart, and figuring out how they tick."

The terse reply from Noire surprised Trixie, as well as the present tense she used, making it seem like Cognito was still alive. Well, she supposed Noire still wanted to keep some part of her background secret.

Taking a breath, Trixie said, "My own father was a craftsman. He primarily did woodwork, building and repairing anything from wheels to whole houses, and sometimes metal work. He was really fond, however, of chiseling. He would do custom doors, custom signs, custom gates, especially for a pony's Cutie Mark paraphernalia."

"I see. Even today, Changeling civilians are little different from pony civilians."

"They are both equines, after all," Noire said.

Iceheart nodded her head in assent, and said, "That is true. That should be sufficient heat. Come now, let us be off again."

The piles of snow quickly disappeared as Iceheart lead Trixie and Noire closer. Instead, the terrain became a rough, bumpy mix of compacted snow and ice. Fortunately, with the uneven path came a reduced albedo, and Trixie found her eyes being able to relax more behind her tinted glasses.

At last, trudging up one final hill, Iceheart stopped their journey. "This is as far as we go," Iceheart said, looking up at the sky. "A little over two hours, we have plenty of time to return. I could go closer by myself, but I am not leaving the two of you out here alone. Whatever you think you can do, Trixie, you shall do it here and not a hoof-step further."

"Thank you," Trixie said, as she paced around, getting a closer view of the Windigo ice through the snow blowing around it. It really was unremarkable. Had she not been told what it was, Trixie would have assumed the block of ice was perhaps a large glacier, or maybe a geographical feature jutting out of the landscape with ice and snow covering it, obscuring the hill underneath. "That is it?" She asked.

"Yes," Iceheart said. "You have several hours if you need it, barring another yeti, but be certain to stay warm."

Trixie nodded in acknowledgement, exaggerating the motion to make sure the motion was understood through the layered clothing she wore.

She raised her head, pointing her horn towards the ice, and Trixie casted.


Two nights had passed since the black moon, and the calendar had refreshed, passing over into the next month. Though there was still only a sliver, Trixie could peer out the window and spot the moon, its meager light shining over Whinnychester's many windmills off in the distance.

Trixie sighed, and sat down on her haunches. Noire had already gone to sleep, having worked a long day working through a backlog of mechanical maintenance before they left Whinnychester in a few days' time. As it was still winter, soon to be spring, there had been little for Trixie to do but to read, study, and clean up the house left to her by her parents. She had already made arrangements with Straw Thatcher, a village mare, to take care of the house and possibly rent it out in the future, but Trixie knew she needed to get it updated on her own before she left.

That had been the day, however. Nightfall was for relaxing, and for unwinding. Trixie had already been out for a walk. The outdoors was warm that night, as winter was turning into spring, and it was all too easy to be lazy and sit on a bench, letting a warm breeze wash over her face.

It was while she had sat on the bench, eyes closed and the nearby street lamp insufficient to pierce her eyelids, that Trixie had thought.

What she had done only two nights before had been amazing, even if she had used the power of the black moon to perform it. She had changed New Moon, no, Noire's appearance and made it permanent. It could be dispelled, but it would have to be by somebody even more talented than Trixie was, and they would have to realise there was an illusion there to remove in the first place.

Trixie didn't like to brag, but years of performance shows had given her a
lot of practice with illusions.

But there was something more to it still, something that she couldn't quite express. Noire's Cutie Mark...somehow, it had changed. That had been the power of the black moon, Trixie was certain of it. And yet, the magic should not have jumped the parameters of the spell and ritual circle Trixie had designed. So how had it happened?

Perhaps there was something more to illusions than she thought? Trixie always thought illusions were merely about fooling the senses in some way, whether through little things like creating displays for her show with magical fireworks, and the extreme end of that being what she had just done with Noire. But maybe she merely had to push and push and break through what was in fact merely a limit and not the hard ceiling of what the field of magic could do. Who would have thought that such a silly concept as friendship could result in apotheosis?

Back in her household, Trixie held up a small wood chip to the window, letting the tiny bit of moonlight reveal it in her hoof. With a bit of tinkering, Trixie could make this woodchip appear darker, or make it seem like it was metal. Though it would require more complicated magic in layered spells, she could make it feel like it was a hundred degrees hotter than it actually was, or that it made a chime like a bell when dropped on the floor. What would be impossible through illusion magic alone would be to change the actual shape of it. Even if she disguised it as a marble, a pony would still be able to feel the edges and contours of the wood chip. There was no way around that without delving into another field of magic.

Or was there?

Trixie turned the wood chip over in her hoof. Perhaps it was in fact possible to fool even a pony's sense of touch with the shape of an object. It had to be complete, however: if somepony were to get a wooden sliver from this wood chip when messing with it, the illusion would be broken. So somehow, it had to not just be the pony, but also the object that was being tricked.

She paused. Her mind was beginning to hurt. This was beginning to verge on some of the 'nature of things' that she had studied up on over the years. Had Trixie been able to stay in school, she might have been able to hear about it from professors, who would have been able to explain it better than the books had.

But Trixie had an inkling she was onto something. Magic was a deep, wide field that extended every which way. A pony could never hope to learn all of what magic had to offer, even if she lived to be as old as the Princesses did. Illusionary magic had fascinated Trixie since she was young, even though most of what she had learned had been self-taught. If she was to ever get serious and commit to studying and exploring magic full-time, she knew precisely what she would specialise in. New magic was always accompanied by prestige, even as it shook up the institutions and forced through change based on new understandings.

"Change, huh?" Trixie mused aloud. "I think I know something about that. How's about this..." She trailed off, her horn glowing softly. Using her innate understanding of how a Changeling physically transformed, she bathed the wood chip in its magic. Let's see what this would do.

She gasped, dropping the object to the floor. It made a loud tap.

In the place of a wood chip was a small play marble. As it had landed, the marble rolled over until it stopped against a wall. There was no way it could have been a wood chip anymore, or else it would not have rolled on impact.


Magic was...it was always hard to explain, extending something that wasn't quite the sensation of touch outwards to get a feel for one's surroundings. To Trixie, the soft glance of her magic flowing out of her horn to manipulate things at a distance was rather like a gas, yet not. She would struggle to describe horn-cast magic to a non-unicorn if asked. It just was.

She poked at the Windigo ice, and recoiled. Not one, not two but three full-body shivers passed through her, leaving her almost paralysed. This was what she had bragged about possibly being able to destroy? This abomination against friendship and harmony left behind by the Windigos, able to induce fear in her even as a fossil? What had Trixie been thinking?

Trixie grimaced. No, she couldn't give up, not after coming so far. The fossils might feel hostile, but the Windigos who had given form to the magic within had been dead for at least several hundred years. There was no sentience left to guide the Ice's inherent power.

She tried again. Slowly, Trixie lost focus of her physical sight, eyes peering into the snow right in front of her tinted pink from the glow of her horn. Instead, she Saw the inner workings of the Windigo ice. Instead of being a solid whole, there were many small cracks and crevices, with tiny holes and tunnels snaking through the ice block, creating something which rather resembled an ant's hive. Unbidden, she traced one of the contours into the depths of the ice, following the intricate patterns that had formed. The ice appeared to have a half-life, disappearing bit by bit at a time, though it would take many more mortal lifetimes before it disappeared.

Gritting her teeth, Trixie changed the scope of her magic field, using it to attempt to heat the ice. Instead of what would happen with regular ice, the magic bounced right back at her, creating a tingle in her horn. That was unusual. There was such a thing as anti-magic metal capable of producing a similar feeling, but it was very rare. The only specimen Trixie had ever seen of the metal was during her brief attendance at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns in Canterlot. Somehow, the Windigo ice produced the same effect.

Just how had her ancestors survived the Windigos? The Hearth's Warming Eve tale was now beginning to look like a thoroughly sanitised version of whatever had really happened.

Trixie fumbled her way through, trying to find a way to manipulate magic against the Windigo ice, instead of using it to merely passively explore the inner makeup of the ice. She fidgeted, grasped, and threaded her magic every which way, attempting to find some way to make her magic work on the ice. But at last she had to admit the truth, both to herself and out loud to the others.

"I can't do this," Trixie said. "I try, and my magic just slips off the ice."

Nearby, Noire could be heard sucking in a breath of cold air.

"That is what I had expected. Many other unicorns, strong ones, ones with eccentric talents, ones who had studied the ice for years all failed. It was always worth a try, and I needed to scout out close to the ice this week anyways," Iceheart said, before she regarded the ice with a sideways look. "Other modern ponies have said the fossils are 'majestic'. Would you agree?"

"It does have a, erm, remarkable aesthetic to it," said Noire. "It looks like one solid mass. It sits in the middle of the ice flats, with nothing around it. I guess it looks a lot prettier when the sun strikes it just right, maybe around midday. But, well..." Noire trailed off.

"But it is something that is capable of causing untold catastrophe, even in its dormant state," Iceheart finished for Noire. "Of course, it's just ice. It's incapable of moving itself. This ice will not threaten the Empire. When the Windigos return, this won't be even that useful to them, except as a stronghold where ponies cannot approach. I have thought about it sometimes, if there is a point to staying at the fort. There are no Windigos to fight anymore, and it is unlikely they will reappear in my lifetime."

"You seem oddly introspective. Why are you confiding in us?" Trixie asked.

"I suppose your stories about your travels through Equestria and beyond have given me cause to think about my own life," Iceheart confessed. "I am not very good at expressing myself, and I have never needed to be. Only being able to command was a necessary quality. Maybe, one day, I would like to leave. The ponies in the Empire do not like me, so I would head south and explore this strange new world we Crystal Ponies have found ourselves placed in. But until I find somepony who can tolerate the cold and get close to the ice as well as I, that will not be an option. Come, let us leave before the snowstorm sets in again."

Iceheart started walking, and Trixie and Noire fell in behind her. Trixie, however, felt the conversation was unfinished, and she asked, "But you think there is somepony already who can command well enough, if not as good at resisting the weather as you are?"

The Crystal Earth pony continued walking, seemingly determined to get away from the fossilised ice as soon as possible. Despite her disdain for non-essential chatter while on their expedition to the ice, Iceheart was less cautious when going away from it, as she said, "Yes. Diamond Dust could easily take over if I decided to take a lesser role as a mere patrol, and if I were to die on the post, everypony knows they are to defer to him. Snowpeak is potentially also capable."

"That's..." Trixie struggled not to find the word to say, but to actually speak it out loud. Sad, she instead thought to herself. Barring her outburst last night, Iceheart seemed to have little will to live for herself. Even her interest in leaving the fort was predicated on an impossible feat. One which Trixie had failed to resolve.

Why was she beating herself up so much over this? As Iceheart had said, many had tried before her, and all had failed, with the exception of using the Crystal Heart. Trixie supposed she was disappointed because after riding the euphoric high of discovering what was potentially new magic, she had all too quickly found something that her magic was incapable of solving. Trixie knew she had to stop thinking about this too hard, lest she wallow in despair in those dark days before she put on the Alicorn Amulet.

Taking a deep breath, Trixie relaxed herself, purging her mind of conscious thoughts. It wasn't the safest thing to walk in the arctic wastes on autopilot, but she trusted Noire behind her and Iceheart in front of her could cover in the event Trixie had a mishaps.

Iceheart made a good pace, trotting a little bit quicker than she had led the other two to the ice. That the flats trended slightly downhill towards the castle helped, as well as the sun overhead reaching its zenith, slightly warming the air even as they got further away from the ice.

At least, Iceheart stopped upon a small hill, and surveyed the shining red castle below. "This is what true beauty is to me," Iceheart said, and Noire and Trixie listened. "The Crystal Heart tamed a part of the north so that we Crystal Ponies could live, survive, even thrive in the face of the Windigos. This castle may not fall under the Crystal Heart's protections, but we made it work. In the end, thanks to the stasis, we outlasted them. Look, you can even see the Crystal Palace from here."

Trixie followed Iceheart's hoof, looking past the castle and off into the distance. Though low-hanging clouds and localised drifts of snow kicked up by wind obscured the view, she could still make out the large, crystal structure that was the Empire's centrepiece. The sun shone on the Palace just right to make it gleam even from afar.

The Palace where the Crystal Heart was.

It was a feeling, something that the rationalist in Trixie screamed at her to ignore, gut feelings were nothing more than an aberration. The optimist in her decided to indulge it.

"Wait, please."


Dimly, she was aware of the background noise, the words of other ponies. Her attention was elsewhere, however.

Even at this great a distance, she was Aware of the Crystal Heart. It had seemed to be a benign object when Noire and herself had visited it to take a look, but there really was more to it than that. The Crystal Heart was alive, much like the Alicorn Amulet was.

That scared her. The Amulet was insidious, making her every move and thought seem so logical, as if she had thought of it herself. Perhaps she had thought of them by herself, and she was shifting blame onto the Amulet. Regardless, she had little desire to hoof control over to a quasi-sentient magical artifact again.

Yet the Crystal Heart was different. In the past, countless ponies before her had used it as a force of destruction, yes, but towards the end goal of destroying something that threatened their livelihood, even as the Crystal Heart gave them an environment-controlled habitat to live within.

The Crystal Heart greeted her, reading her intentions all too easily. It wanted to help her.

She swallowed. She had been given that same spiel, once before.

No, it said. It would not give her its own power. It would merely open the path, and make the Ice briefly vulnerable.

How could she trust it?

Sometimes, trust is a matter of faith.

She didn't know.

But it had been so long since she had been able to freely exert herself and truly show off. Would it be so bad to have one last hurrah?

She turned around.

"Noire," Trixie said. "Whatever you feel, don't panic."


Well-Known Member
Noire had other plans. Every time she had heard a pony use those words before, it had been followed by a fool action taken on a leap of faith. This far north, where exposure to cold could kill in minutes if not properly dressed, the stakes were increased.

"Trixie, you fool, what are you do-" Noire stopped herself, as she felt what Trixie had planned.

Power washed over Noire, the burst of magic radiating from Trixie's horn glowing so strong that it was nearly a blinding sun unto itself, a pink corona that chase away the world of white. There was more magic than any unicorn could possibly hope to output at a sustained rate.

She's using her pool of magic from emotions, Noire quickly realised. When Noire had tapped into her own pool, it had always been a brief thing. Pegasus and pegasus batponies were only supposed to be able to manipulate magic through their wings, and she had little desire to invite scrutiny onto herself by accidentally using magic from elsewhere. Noire had resolved she would only use a substantial amount of magic in an emergency, an occasion that had never come to pass.

If the amount of magic Trixie held within her lithe frame was around the same as what Noire could hold, then the unicorn would soon run dry.

Trixie's eyes opened.

Noire grit her teeth. She knew that look. It was the eyes of a unicorn who no longer had control of her own power, but had let the power take control of her. What had Trixie done?!

Wait. Noire looked closer, and began to use her magical senses, underdeveloped as they were.

"Wh-what is she doing?" Iceheart asked beside Noire, taken off-guard by the unicorn's sudden madness.

"The Crystal Heart," Noire said breathlessly. It had taken her several seconds to recognise its signature, but as benign as the artifact had been when they visited it in the city proper, there was no mistaking it. Trixie was acting as a vessel for the Crystal Heart's power.

Noire swallowed, her lips suddenly feeling dry. What had the Crystal ponies said about the Crystal Heart and its relation to Windigo ice in the past? She knew what they had said, but the thought refused to be elucidated.

"She's what? That's madness!" Iceheart said, turning her gaze between the Crystal Empire off in the distance, then back to Trixie, then back to the Empire again. "No, she's not, not completely at least. A partial use, otherwise the dome would have fallen."

"Wha-" Noire started to ask, only to be interrupted again as the amount of magic Trixie released increased even further. No longer was the magic merely bright. Now, it was beginning to radiate heat, kicking up warm wind currents around Noire. Just what was Trixie doing?

Noire's eyes widened. That didn't really matter, did it? She had trusted in Trixie once before, and Trixie had pulled through for her. Noire would trust her best friend, sister, to do what she thought best. And if Trixie needed a little bit of help, well...Noire walked closer to Trixie, and extended a paw out, touching the unicorn's shoulder.

If Trixie needed extra magic, she would get it.


Trixie acknowledged the hoof that patted her shoulder. The other pony willingly released the barriers that separated their magic flows, and raw magical power flowed into Trixie through her shoulder and out her horn.

The Windigo ice was something that could be manipulated. It was something that could be changed. The Crystal ponies may have been in stasis for a thousand years, but here was something that was physical and material in the moment. Now that the Crystal Heart had acted, no amount of anti-magic protection would save the fossils of Windigos long gone. The subtle underlying magic of the ice that had so easily repelled Trixie's magic before would now bow before her might. To melt it would tax the Crystal Heart and fell the dome surrounding the Crystal Empire. That was unacceptable. But Trixie would not be melting the ice.

She could no longer see, eyes blinded by the power of the magic being cast from her horn, but that was alright. She had moved past the old days, when an illusion merely meant tricking one's eyes and ears. All the world was a stage, and upon her stage she would deceive the world.

Trixie cast, and the ice disappeared.

The living wind subsided.


Noire fell over, her body heaving for oxygen. Sweet, sweet air rushed into her lungs. The cold air for once served a purpose, reinvigorating her even as her senses were numb, both from the magical glow and the power she had sensed. She at least still had consciousness, something Trixie didn't. The unicorn had stopped casting her magic, only to flop over into the snow. Only the systematic rise and fall of her chest reassured Noire. While Trixie might have other problems from what she had done, her steady breathing was a good thing.

Speaking of which, what had Trixie done? Noire had gathered a pool of power over many years. Now, that reserve was nearly empty, and Noire would have to horde her magic for the future, unless she could find somepony who was as good at supply love and happy emotions as her mother had been.

"Amazing," Iceheart said beside her.

"What's amazing?" Noire asked, lifting her head up. Iceheart hadn't had most of her energy consumed, but she seemed to barely be fazed by the bright light and display of magical prowess that had just occurred.

"I can feel it. The air temperature is already beginning to warm up. It's subtle, but the wind flows are changing, too. They're natural. They are what they should be, what they were before the Stasis, when there was no ice out here."

Noire's eyes bulged as she realised just what Iceheart was saying. Although weak, she was quickly able to pick herself up, two hooves at a time, before turning around. With a wild woop of joy, she shook a hoof in celebratory triumph. "She did it!" Noire said, "That madmare really did it!"

Gone was the ice to the north. Where there had been a distinct feature jutting out of the ice, now there were only endless fields of ice flats going further and further north until they eventually terminated at the base of the mountain ranges off in the far distance. The snowstorm had already begun to subside, with the visibility in the area around the ice significantly improved.

Iceheart said, "Yes, she did. No illusion as I understood them could work like this. The wind, the temperature, even the ice underneath my hooves, I can tell. The ice is gone. And without sacrificing the defense of the Crystal Empire, either." Looking back south, she saw that the pale tint of the dome around the city was still there. Somehow, this unicorn who had come to visit the castle had done something she hadn't thought possible. Iceheart knew she owed Trixie, this unusual daughter of changeling and pony, a debt that she might never be able to pay off.

Well, there was no time like the present to start. Noire wasn't in too great a condition, suffering the classical signs of magical fatigue, odd as it was to see in a winged pony. That meant it was up to Iceheart. Bending over, she picked up the unconscious Trixie in her hooves, carefully maneuvering her over until Trixie was propped up on Iceheart's back.

"Come," Iceheart said to Noire, getting the batpony's attention, "The ice may be gone, but that does not mean it is now impossible to freeze to death out here."

Noire nodded wearily. She was glad Iceheart was able to pick up the slack. She barely had the position to walk herself, and even if her wings weren't restricted, flying was out of the question.

The two started to walk again, Iceheart taking the rear this time. As they began to approach the castle, frenzied activity could be seen taking place both outdoors and on the ramparts.

Suddenly, the body Iceheart was carrying began to stir. Iceheart paused to accommodate the shifting form, as Trixie slowly woke up to the world again. 

"Did I do it?"

It was a tough thing for Iceheart to smile. Except for Sombra's fall, there had been little for her to smile about for so long, and the ponies she commanded took pride in merely having her there. Trixie also couldn't see Iceheart's face from her position draped over Iceheart's back. Nevertheless, Iceheart smiled, and she said, "Yes, Trixie, you did. The ice is gone, and the dome is still up over the Crystal Empire."

"Oh...good...I guess I did something right at least."

"Don't say that," Iceheart scolded her, unmindful of Trixie's current state, "You did something I did not believe possible. You more than 'did something right', you have made all our lives significantly easier."

"Ah. Thanks."

The mass that was Trixie turned limp again, as she fell asleep. With a bemused side glance, Iceheart took to trotting again.

"Thank you," Noire murmured to her. "She needed that."

"More than her, I needed this," Iceheart confessed to Noire. "When we get back, I will have many things to think over."


"Commander, Miss Noire," Diamond Dust greeted Iceheart and Noire as they approached the castle. "Does Miss Trixie need medical attention?"

The other Crystal ponies were less reserved in their reaction, as Powder Blue rushed out to inspect Trixie. Her horn glowing, she quickly announced her prognosis, "Magical fatigue, nothing more. Commander, what happened out there?"

"The ice is gone, where did it go?"

"What was that bright light? I thought the sun was falling!"

"Are the Windigos coming back?"

"Quiet," Iceheart said, and the Crystal Ponies all fell in line. Powder Blue was the lone exception as she continued examining Trixie. "We used the Crystal Heart's influence to destroy the ice, without the dome falling. I believe what happened is a magical one-off that cannot be repeated. The ice is indeed gone, as both the temperature and the wind patterns have begun to shift and warm up. The Windigos are not returning."

The ponies in formation let out a breath of relief as one.

"Lieutenant Diamond Dust," Iceheart said.

"Yes, commander?" Diamond Dust asked, moving forward a little bit as he was singled out.

"I will be leaving soon. You will be the new commander once I do." There were a few gasps of surprise at Iceheart's proclamation, but nothing past that. Her ponies were much too disciplined to descend into idle chatter while in formation.

"Understood, commander," Diamond Dust said. "When do you plan to leave, and should I wait until then to take over?"

Iceheart had to think over that a little bit, but it was not too difficult. She said, "I plan to leave in about three days, presuming both Noire and Trixie here are in good condition to travel. You may start making decisions immediately, but I will only relinquish my title upon leaving. I will only ask that Powder Blue, if you would please, help me take Trixie up to their quarters. Other than that, you have full control now, Diamond Dust, though you should make sure to send a runner to the Empire to inform them about the ice disappearnig."

"Very well, commander," Diamond Dust said. Turning around, he said, "Carry on with your assigned tasks and patrols. I have paperwork and briefs to work through, but I will start interviewing you one by one later, and one of you will have to carry a message back to the city."

Behind him, Iceheart left, smiling. She knew she had left the castle in good hooves.


Waking up was an uphill battle. She didn't remember much, but she did remember being cold. Wherever she was now, she was nice and toasty warm, and some ancestral instinct told her that to wake up would be to eventually forfeit that heat.

Nonetheless, it was a battle that her body would eventually win over her mind, and her body wanted to move around. 

"Good to see you're awake," Noire said from her position at the side of the bed. "If it weren't for the fact every pony here is a trained military professional who has seen combat, we might have actually panicked. Magical fatigue is fairly easy to spot, and the best remedy for that is rest and good food."

Trixie groaned. "I see you weren't as affected as I was if you're in full spirits and capable of snarking," She said.

"Right back at you."

"Should I perhaps leave?"

Trixie looked over to the windows, where Iceheart had been looking outside. Even though they had only met a few days ago, Trixie could recognise that purple coat and white mane anywhere. Right. This was going to be an interesting conversation, "No, you can stay. We banter like this all the time."

"Ah. Very well then," Iceheart said as she strode over to the bed Trixie had been laid up on. "You certainly did expend yourself out there. You have been sleeping for the better part of the day. It is just after sunrise now, you destroyed the ice yesterday."

"Not destroyed, erased," Trixie said. Then she realised what she had just said. "I really did that?"

"You sure did, Trix," Said Noire.

"Huh," Was all Trixie had to say. She gave it a few moments' thought, then said, "I would say this is the part in a tale where the heroes celebrate, but I didn't really save the world. Not even the Crystal Empire, or even this castle."

"No, you didn't," Iceheart agreed, "But you did make life significantly easier for us here. Visibility will be improved, temperatures will be warmer, the winds will be gentler, and we will no longer have to patrol around the ice. Now we can go straight through." Trixie delicately tasted the soft emotional mix Iceheart was leaking. It was gratitude. That made sense.

"Not 'we', but 'they'," Noire corrected her.

"Yes, they. You were not awake at the time, Trixie, but I have decided that I will be resigning my commission and leaving the castle within the next few days."

"Wait, really?" Trixie asked. A resolve that had seemed so sharp only a few days ago had already lost its clarity, but now she remembered. Mixed in with all the foolishness, bullheadedness and blind optimism that she could do something thought impossible, something which she actually succeeded in, had been a desire to help the Crystal ponies. Above all else, there had been Iceheart, a pony who Trixie thought was lonely at the top, serving as a pillar of strength for her garrison while jettisoning any personal dreams.

Hearing that what she had done had allowed Iceheart to finally leave her self-imposed exile should have filled Trixie with joy. For some reason, she just felt tired.

"Yes. I have been speaking with Noire over this. If you are alright, I would like to come along with you. I hear you plan to head to the southern reaches of Equestria next? To the Badlands?"

Trixie coughed in surprise, looking up at Iceheart, before her eyes flashed to Noire. The rage subsided as quick as it had come to her. Oh, right. Iceheart had easily figured out Noire's heritage, and it had been Trixie's own fault that Iceheart had the pieces to work with and deduce that information. After that, there really was not much of a need for secrecy left.

"Yes, that was our plan, to head to the Badlands after we visited the Crystal Empire," Trixie admitted. "There is a Changeling hive there where both our fathers came from. While things may have changed, we are likely to get some form of amnesty in attempting to visit. But are you sure you want to come along? The Badlands is the total opposite of here. It's dry, the pegasi don't like delivering rain to the Badlands and the Changelings don't bother, it's hot and dusty, it's, sorry. Um, just, why us? You could explore all of Equestria on your own, you're capable of protecting yourself. If you went with us, me and Noire have a specific location in mind that we don't know how long we'll be there for."

Iceheart said, "I understand what you are saying, but after seeing what you did out there, I am interested in you and Noire. You bring a dynamism none of us Crystal ponies can hope to match. If I am correct in my judgement, even among ponies who grew up in this age, there are few who possess the same spark that the two of you do. It would be remiss of me for us to go our separate ways. I feel that if I go with you, I will not only learn more about Equestria as it is today, but also be able to actively partake in it."

Trixie let out a hum, as she thought to herself. On the one hoof, she was hesitant. The Queen of the Changelings had only recently invaded Equestria, and Trixie was unsure as to how she would react if Trixie and Noire brought a pure pony with them, even if that pony happened to be one who had missed out on a thousand years of history. More ponies would also bog down Trixie's plans for travelling after visiting the Badlands, whatever they may end up being, including visiting Colt Springs on the west coast.

On the other hoof, this whole mess had started because she had strongly sympathised with Iceheart. She still did. Trixie didn't really have the heart to say no. Besides, even with Noire, it would be nice to have another mare along with, especially one who could both fight, and knew of their heritage and yet didn't care.

"What say you, Noire?" Trixie asked her batpony companion.

"I'm good," Noire said. "She asked me earlier, I've already had time to think about it. The more the merrier for travelling, I guess."

"Then I don't have any issue either, so long as you understand that the Changelings may be dangerous," Trixie said.

Iceheart shrugged, shaking her head to get her white mane to fall to one side of her shoulders. "I have fought Windigos, yetis, and polar bears for much of my life. While I suppose I am still afraid of dying, at least it would be someplace exotic."

Trixie laughed, feeling better already than she had even when she had been able to walk around. "So long as you can keep that sense of humour, they're less likely to bite. I'm serious! It's not love, but they'll take good humour too!"


There wasn't really much of a turnout to send Iceheart off from the castle that she had called home for five and a thousand years. This was mostly because there were so few ponies around that she had been able to speak individually with each one of them over the few days since she had decided to resign.

Only Aurora and Snowpeak were there, with Snowpeak just returned from the Empire, having been the messenger to deliver news both of the Windigo fossils' disappearance and of Iceheart's planned resignation. Were there more ponies around, Iceheart and Diamond Dust would have done a more formal send-off and relinquishment of the title of Commander of the Northern Fort, but the new commander was busy getting up to speed with his post.

"It almost seems like the end of an era," Snowpeak said. "When I came you were already leading here, and it felt like you would be here forever. I'm happy for you, you'll finally be able to leave, Iceheart."

Aurora just sniffed. It was clear to all that the green-coated mare would miss Iceheart.

"I am glad as well, Snowpeak. You and Aurora take care of yourselves. Time has passed us by, but that does not mean we need to stay in the past. Eventually, other ponies will come here to take up a post. When that happens, I hope the two of you, all of you truly, will be able to break free from this place. I will miss all of you, even this castle," Iceheart said.

"Be that as it may, I would like to talk to you one last time, about the proposal I would like to make later on," Snowpeak said.

Iceheart consented, and the two walked away, leaving Trixie baffled. Proposal? Her ears flicked in excitement as she recalled just what a 'proposal' could mean, and she wondered who the lucky mare would be, and if it was somepony at the castle.

"You two," Aurora suddenly said to Trixie and Noire,  while Iceheart was out of earshot, talking with Snowpeak.

"Yes?" Noire asked.

Aurora grinned, and she said, "I don't know what it is you did out there on the northern flats, or what caused the ice to disappear, or what you three were talking about the night before you went out, but thank you. Whatever it was, you managed to break Iceheart out of that dismal state of hers. We all have our own lives that we want to lead, but we all saw the commander and knew hers was the saddest story of all. We have been hoping that something would eventually lift her spirits. I am sad that she is leaving us, but I know it is the best thing that can happen for her." Mismatched red and purple eyes squinted, and it would have been tough for Aurora's smile to get any bigger, even as Trixie and Noire could both feel the joy bubbling underneath the surface. "So once again, thank you."

Trixie bit her lip. She didn't want to give away the facts on just what had happened out there. While Iceheart thought it was a method worth reusing, all three agreed to keep what Trixie had done under wraps. Given there was no other Windigo ice around, and that it appeared to be a truly specialised technique that only Trixie was capable of, it was quite probable there would be nopony around capable of doing similar magic when the Windigos next appeared.

So instead, she nodded her head in acknowledgement, and waited for Iceheart and Snowpeak to wrap their conversation up before they could leave and head south to the Crystal Empire.


It had been less than a week since Trixie and Noire left the Crystal Empire. Despite that, they had forgotten just how long the trot from the Empire to the fortress had been. In their defense, there had been a lot of activity in the space of that week. With Iceheart coming along, however, they made better timing, as the Crystal pony took a hearty pace. What had taken Trixie and Noire the better part of a day before was now only half a day as they briskly moved to keep up with Iceheart. That they went downhill over the long term also helped.

Trixie had quickly dropped into the trance that she often fell into when she had been out on the road, delegating most of her conscious mental functions to looking out for threats even as the rest of her blanked out. In what seemed like no time at all, they quickly moved past the tinted dome that protected the Crystal Empire, and reached the northern gates.

"Halt! Who goes there-Commander Iceheart, is that you?!" One of the  guards sputtered in surprise, nearly dropping his spear.

"I am glad to see you again, Solstice. Has life treated you well in the Crystal Empire?"

Solstice recovered his wits quickly, and gave a salute to Iceheart. He said, "I am doing well, Commander. I have a wife now, and our first foal on the way."

"That is good to hear. I apologise that I will not be around to see him or her, whichever gender it may be."

The other guard, a pegasus mare, blurted out, "Commander, we saw an extremely bright light to the north a few days ago. Is it true what Snowpeak was saying? That the ice is gone?!"

"Yes, yes it is," Iceheart said. "I do not know precisely what happened myself, though I have reason to believe the Crystal Heart was somehow activated, in a method that did not fell the dome." She sighed, and said, "I am tired. I have been the commander of the northern fort for many years already, and now there is nothing left to guard against but for wild yetis and polar bears, barring the Windigos returning within my lifetime. I have resigned my commission, and have come home to make it official."

"What? You, retire? That's, that's, well, wow, I never thought you would retire, no offence, Commander."

Iceheart's blue eyes gleamed with amusement, "Even I yearn for things, Solstice. The ice is gone. Now that the north is free of hazards, I have little desire to stay there until I am an old mare."

Solstice blushed appreciably, a difficult feat under his dark-blue coat. He said, "Well, we'll check you in, Commander, though I guess you won't be Commander for very long. Wait, you said you won't be around to see my child, does that mean you're leaving the Empire?"

"I am. These two mares here have done a fair bit of travelling and intend to continue. I intend to accompany them."

"I'm sorry, Commander," said the female guard. "We tried, we really tried, but the ponies here, they really don't want to listen, urgh!"

Iceheart turned her attention over to the mare, "That is alright, Snow Rose. We are all ponies of the Crystal Empire. Sombra's reign is over, and for some of us it will take longer to recover than others, if ever. Do not think that I am continuing to stay away from the Empire, however. I am actively choosing to go with Trixie and Noire here, because there is a whole new world waiting for us."

"As you will, Commander. Thank you for your service," Crystal Rose saluted Iceheart. "We'll sign you in, so go on ahead."

"Thank you both, Solstice, Crystal Rose. It was a pleasure to have you in my command," Iceheart said, as she at last took her first step into the Crystal Empire in more than a thousand years.


There had been many dirty looks from Crystal ponies who recognised Iceheart, and the underlying hostility was genuine, almost oppressive. With a startle, Trixie realised Iceheart had a rather unique Cutie Mark, resembling the Crystal Heart but with several snowflakes surrounding the heart. There were very few ponies who had Cutie Marks with the Crystal Heart on their flanks in the Empire, though supposedly the Princess was one of them.

Regardless, Trixie and Noire had taken Ice to the hotel at the south end of the Empire where they had previously stayed, getting a room for another night before heading out in the morning. It was just as well, as Iceheart had to go to the Palace to process her resignation, as well as to collect on her pay for her many, many years of service as a high-ranking military official. Iceheart had also said that she had a few other visits to make after, and would be gone until late.

It was while Iceheart was gone that Trixie fidgeted, and paced around the room.

"What's wrong, Trix?" Noire asked from her reclined position, sitting lazily on a bed. It was far too obvious that something was bothering the unicorn.

"What I did out there is what's wrong," Trixie said, briefly chewing away at a hoof. "I mean, it all turned out good in the end, but it honestly scares me, too. The power to do what I did, in a way that leaves no physical evidence there even was an object there? That's terrifying. Plus, what if I had a magical backlash? I was full of bravado, but I have no idea what would have occurred if the magic had been turned back on me."

OK, that actually was a good reason to fret, Noire thought as she hopped off the bed and onto the floor. Noire took a few seconds to think over what she wanted to say, and finally said, "Well, there's no point in beating yourself up over what-could-have-beens. Instead, focus on what-might-bes. If you say there's the possibility of a tragic magic backlash, then what would that entail, how can you reduce the chance of it occurring, and how can you mitigate the consequences should it actually occur?"

Trixie sighed, and she said, "Well, for one, I would never have pulled it off on my own. I needed the Crystal Heart to do it, but that would have just made a backlash worse. So, no using magical artifacts in the future." Left unsaid between the two was that the last time she had used a magical artifact, things had not turned out well. "Formulate a code of ethics and stick to it. Besides, both of you are former law enforcement so I doubt you'd appreciate me making money even if it's physically the same as the real thing."

"Royal guard, not law enforcement," Noire said, but she knew Trixie didn't really care about the difference.

"Right, right, royal guard. Um, don't dump that much power into anything either. That's the other thing I was nervous about. Before, I thought we would go south to see her with full reserves, either as a getaway option or a peace offering."

"And that's something we don't have anymore," Noire completed for her friend. "I have a little bit of emotional reserves left but not much, and I am guessing you were drained dry by that feat of magic you did."

Trixie nodded, and said, "Right.  Um, the last thing is, though this fits with the code of ethics, no experimenting on anything living. I've tried it before, on insects, but they resist being changed. Not like the ice was, the ice had antimagic protection but it crumbled easily once that was removed, but living things seem to have an innate resistance."

"What about me?" Noire asked, "You were able to change my appearance."

"Yeah, but that was your surface appearance, how you look and sound to other ponies, it didn't change your magical signature or anything. I, um, I still don't know precisely about your Cutie Mark, but I guess it was influenced by the magic of the black moon. And you were willing to accept the illusion. But the point is, that's different. If I had tried to make you a half a hooflength taller in height, that would have been impossible on the other hoof. I think it complies with all the magical laws about living things resisting other types, but like I said, I don't want to try testing it."

Noire frowned. She was nowhere near as knowledgeable about magic as Trixie was, but something still seemed off. Living beings could resist magic, sure, but they couldn't outright nullify it, otherwise battle magic or healing magic wouldn't work.

While Noire thought about this, the door opened, and Iceheart strode in, wearing empty saddlebags. "Oh, hello Iceheart," Noire greeted the other pony.

"Good afternoon, Noire," Iceheart said. "Have you and Trixie been out to procure supplies?"

"Not yet," said Trixie. "We figured we would take the train south and pick up supplies there. There's a frontier town by the name of Dodge Junction right outside the Badlands. We have money already, don't worry, but out of curiosity, did you receive your pay?"

"I did. I left most of it with my sisters, and the rest I will keep in these 'travellers cheques'."

"I didn't know you had sisters," Noire said.

"They survived Sombra's purge and subsequent reign. The Witch King at least kept his word on that. They did not have the cold tolerance that I had, and so it was me who he was interested in."

Noire backed off, getting the hint that Iceheart didn't want to talk about her sisters. Instead, she said, "Well, they should be good in most of Equestria, even Dodge Junction since it's served by the train. It'll be more difficult to use in remote locations and really small villages though, as they usually don't have banking services." And so Noire went on, engaging Iceheart in idle chatter. Now that the greatest of loads  had been removed from Iceheart's shoulders, the other pony was a lot more affable and easy to banter with, even if she still did live up to her name,

Off to the side, Trixie did some accounting, estimating what they would need to pick up in Dodge Junction and the price of those goods. In the morning, they would be off again. It had only been a week since they had first set hoof in the Crystal Empire, and yet it seemed like a lifetime, as Noire and her had picked up a new travelling companion.

What was it that Trixie had thought to herself as she left Whinnychester, leaving the familiar and the safe behind? She certainly couldn't have predicted the adventure that had just occurred.

"Ah, right," Trixie whispered to herself, her father's motto springing to mind again, "Who dares, wins." She would need those words as she marched into the Badlands to attempt a conversation with the Changeling Queen who had invaded Equestria many years ago.

Author Notes

I originally thought every arc would run about 15,000 words, and the size of the New Moon arc deceived me into thinking everything would go as planned. Clearly it didn't. I could have split this chapter up into two but for thematic reasons I am attempting to keep each arc at three chapters.

Something I'll probably edit a bit shortly between this chapter and last is the Crystal ponies. Arguably they should be speaking in ye olde English, except nobody wants to read that crap for two chapters and I don't want to write it, and they were speaking perfectly-modern day in The Crystal Empire episodes too. But I've still tried to craft a distinct style of speech for them that's not very casual in tone to reflect their speech style being different.

The next arc will be 'Upon the Wings of Freedom'

"Me, a Changeling? Hah! What Changeling would want to take my form?"


Well-Known Member
Upon the Wings of Freedom: Dodge Junction
It had been over five years since Iceheart had left the north lands, even not counting the stasis. She had made one fatal miscalculation in finally leaving.

Wiping a sheen of sweat off her forehead, she took an envious look at her two travelling companions, neither of who seemed bothered by the heat.

"I'm not surprised, honestly. You've been living up there for so long, of course you won't be used to the warmer climates. Don't worry, the Badlands are hot, but they are more a dry hot," Noire commented.

"Are you sure you cannot use a cooling spell on me? Either of you?" Iceheart groused.

Trixie said, "Neigh, sorry. Your body acclimates far slower if you were to use a cooling spell. We will spend a few days in Dodge Junction. While it is supposed to take up to two weeks, most of the acclimatisation should be done before we set out into the Badlands proper."

Iceheart sighed, and she said, "Very well."

The three ponies were sitting in their own private compartment of the Friendship Express, travelling from one extreme of Equestria to another. By the time night fell on the first day of their three-day trip, the outdoor temperatures had already begun to appreciably warm up, filtering in to the cabins. Iceheart had been thoroughly unprepared for it, and had ended up making use of the on-board shower once already.

"You know, I'm curious," Noire said. "Your coat is crystallised as a result of the Crystal Heart, and not its own inherent thing. I've heard it takes a few months for the sheen to go away for ponies who lived in the Empire once they leave."

"I have never been gone away from home or the castle that long," Iceheart said as she took a sip of tea, never really having thought about it. She wondered what her purple coat would be like if or when it ever lost its sheen, having never seen it not crystallised. "I do not know how long it will be for me. There was one case of a pony whose coat took two years to lose its luster. I doubt I will be one of the outliers, but one never knows."

While there was lots of scenery for Iceheart to look at, as the white faded away into greens, blues and browns, there was little else for her to do on the train. What few stops the train made were to pick up and drop off ponies and goods or to change trains, with only enough time to get out and stretch her limbs. As a result, she had ended up trading small stories with Noire and Trixie. Iceheart had consented to mild emotional leeching once Trixie and Noire had revealed some more about their status as magical hybrids, and how they had been run dry in destroying the ice block.

Then Noire decided to drop the bomb.

"So you're a runaway Royal Guard?" Was all Iceheart had to ask upon Noire making the revelation of what she had done before arriving in Whinnychester.

"You're not going to turn me in or anything, or even scold me?" Noire asked, perplexed.

Iceheart shrugged, and she said, "Why should I? As far as I was, am still concerned, Equestria and the Crystal Empire are separate entities with their own separate guards. That had been the case for all of the Empire's history before the Witch King, and an Equestrian pony who claims to be a descendant of the former Princess Amore and decreeing us a vassal state of Equestria does not change it in my mind. The desertion of a guard from a foreign nation does not concern me."

"But you'll take full advantage of being able to travel across Equestria without a visa now, right?" Trixie asked cheekily.

"That is true," Iceheart said, conceding the point. "Of course, it is just like how you took advantage to be able to travel up to our fort, was it not?"

"Yes, and with lots of food, because we all know the best way to a pony's heart is through her stomach," Noire said, and the three shared a small laugh.

And so it was that the band of two became three.


By the dawn of the third day, all three ponies were getting itchy hooves, and Trixie had the oddest desire for an ocarina. Fortunately, it would only be a few hours before the train rolled into Dodge Junction. There had been a lull from the monotony as they passed Canterlot. Iceheart had never seen Canterlot before, and seeing the city on the mountain had been an impressive sight for her. Unfortunately, the floating city of Cloudsdale was on the other end of Equestria at the time, so Iceheart had not been able to see it.

The lakes, rivers, mountains, forests and the cities of Equestria had since given way to endless plains as the train continued moving into the sparsely-populated southern provinces of Equestria. After making one last train change to avoid heading south to the frontier town of Appleloosa, the three mares were on the last stretch, and the outdoors were beginning to become warm enough that even Trixie gave up on acclimating and started to use a cooling spell on their entire cabin.

The number of passengers onboard each subsequent train had leveled off as they split paths to other terminal points of the Equestrian railway, or simply got off at a community partway along the line. As a result, there was no crowd of ponies to push through when Trixie, Noire and Iceheart went to the front cabin, where there was a viewing station for ponies to see ahead of the line. While Dodge Junction had few multi-story buildings, the town could already be seen in the distance, getting closer with every second as the train chugged along.

"So that is Dodge Junction?" Iceheart asked rhetorically. "I can't imagine how ponies can stand to live here in this heat."

Noire said, "You get used to it, trust me. I've lived in towns like this for months on end and I always was able to settle in quickly. Dodge Junction, if I recall, has a lot of cherry farms, while Appleloosa to the southwest has a massive apple orchard and trade with the buffalo. Both communities are hotspots for rodeo competitions, too."

"Well, if they sell right off the trees, I would much like to pick up a basket as soon as we get off," said Iceheart. "Well, I suppose after we secure a room for a couple of nights first."

"Sure," Trixie said. "Come, let's return to the cabin, I need to put my saddlebags back together before we get off."



Noire had been the first to exit the train, and as soon as a stallion popped up into her face yelling out loud, her wings immediately opened up in surprise and she yelped, jumping backwards. In the process, she managed to knock over both Trixie and Iceheart.

"Dear, we're not in Appleloosa. Can you please tone it down?"

Noire managed to close her wings back in after a few seconds, and climbed back up to her feet. Looking up to her feet, she looked over to see who had accosted her. Standing on the platform was a stallion with fur the colour of golden straw, and a darker brown mane and tail. He wore a vest and a wide-rimmed hat that Noire didn't know the name of off-hoof.

He was also quick to spot Iceheart, and he excitedly gushed, "Oh, a Crystal pony! We haven't seen one of your kind in quite a while! How do you do? I hope it isn't too warm for you here in Dodge Junction! You should go try some of the cherries they ha-"

"Braeburn!" The stallion's companion hissed.

Noire turned her attention to the female, and did a double take. While the stallion, Braeburn was his name if her assumption was correct, was as equine as an Earth pony could be, the brown-furred buffalo standing behind him was most definitely not. Noire quickly sized up the buffalo, noting that she looked a little bit young, and wasn't wearing any markings to point out her tribe. No, wait, buffalo have a high degree of sexual dimorphism. It's the males who grow to be large. She could be an adult for all I know. She probably IS an adult.

"Oh, sorry ma'am. I get enthusiastic at times, don't mind me. Um..."

"Please, forgive Braeburn.  He can be a little, you know, excited at times."

Noire could all too easily read what the female buffalo would have said if not for common courtesy. 'Braeburn can be a little bit of an idiot at times'.

"That is alright," Iceheart said as she picked herself up with grace, finally exiting out onto the platform, wearing her saddlebags. "I can understand ponies and buffalo this far south may not have ever seen a Crystal pony. I am Iceheart. May I have the pleasure of knowing your names?"

"Ah!" Braeburn said, and he smiled. With a brief flutter, Noire could see how he got away with being so loud all the time. "I'm Braeburn, and this here is my, er, companion, Strongheart, of the Thunderhooves tribe."

"The Thunderhooves tribe? Forgive my ignorance if I'm wrong, but I thought your tribe was based further to the west," Noire said.

"We are," The buffalo, Strongheart said. "Me and Braeburn aren't from Dodge Junction, we're from Appleloosa. We're just here for business. Appleloosa grows apples, my tribe has some of its own products, and Dodge Junction grows cherries, so we came to barter for something other than more apples."

"But, apples!" Braeburn protested, until he got a side glance from Strongheart. "Yes, I suppose most of us want more than apples, so that's what we came for, some cherries! So, what brings you folks down on this mighty fine day to good ol' Doooodge Junction?" He asked, significantly toning down his greeting from before.

Noire looked at the two, bemused. While they appeared to be telling the truth, there was a feeling of deceit and guile from Strongheart, especially when she mentioned it being 'just a business trip'. When the two shared glances, there was a brief stir of emotion, almost as if-

Oh! Noire thought to herself. Well, she was fine with that, just a little bit surprised. She would be hypocritical if she didn't like it, considering her own mother and father.

"As you may know, my people, the Crystal ponies, were locked in stasis for a thousand years due to a spell cast by our former mad king," said Iceheart, completely unaware of the behind-the-scenes context to Braeburn and Strongheart's quick looks at one another. "Before he took over, there were many other species that came to our Empire. Some of them were changelings."

"Oh. Oh," was all that Braeburn had to say, looking as if he had just taken a bite out of an extremely sour apple.

"While most went in disguise, a few of them went out openly, and I made friends with one of them. While I am fairly certain she is not alive anymore, I remembered her hive markings, and I wished to make a pilgrimage to the hive she hailed from," Iceheart finished. That had been the cover story the three had devised and rehearsed for when they came south if anypony asked why they were going into the Badlands to find the Changeling hive. It was an open secret that Dodge Junction was the closest town to a major hive, so there would be no way to avoid notice if they walked south from Dodge Junction. "I met these two mares who were travelling, and they offered to join me coming down to Dodge Junction and give me solidarity in numbers."

"Ah Celestia, whew," Braeburn inhaled, then exhaled. Despite being full of wild energy before, the straw-coloured stallion had sagged upon hearing Iceheart's words. Noire could easily taste worry coming off both stallion and cow. "So that's how it is. Um, you might not know this, but a few years ago, Equestria's army and Royal Guard went around to all the towns and cities using a new spell to find changelings who were disguising themselves as ponies."

Both Noire and Trixie's ears flickered at that. Each of them were well-acquainted with the spell Braeburn was talking about. While Noire's father had managed to get around it, Trixie's father had not, to fatal consequences.

"Except here," Strongheart said in turn. "Everybody knows there are changelings here in Dodge Junction, but nobody knows just how many. It was possible that enough ponies here aren't that any scan of the population could have caused a riot. The mayor here asked the Guard not to come, and they didn't."

"You've been here at least a few times then to know all this," said Trixie.

"Well, yes," Braeburn admitted. "The cherry orchards are usually in bloom earlier than our apple orchards are, so plenty of Appleloosans come here for the cherry harvest and then ponies from here come to Appleloosa for the apple harvest. It's, um, I figure at least a few of the ponies I know here are changelings. I just don't want to know who they are, even as I work with them. You don't know, and that makes ponies here uneasy sometimes."

"As long as they're cordial and pleasant to work with, the people here will get along with their neighbors regardless, though there are numerous spot inspections to make sure nobody has actually been kidnapped and replaced by a changeling, as opposed to one creating an identity from scratch," Strongheart added. "I get off a little easy, since changelings don't usually take the form of buffalo."

"So what does that mean for us, then?" Iceheart asked. "I was hoping to find someone locally who is acquainted with the Badlands and could guide us out there to the Changeling hive. It seems that if we do find somepony, others will suspect her or him of being a changeling in turn, or at least, more than they did before."

Braeburn let out a soft 'hum', sitting down on his haunches and crossing his front limbs over his barrel, striking a rather thoughtful pose. "Well, there are a few ponies who do offer guide services into the Badlands. I don't know specifically about going to the Changeling hives, but some of the guides and changelings do occasionally meet and trade information and goods in the Badlands. You could probably find one in the Salt Lick Saloon. Sorry, but I can't recommend any of the guides to you, I've only talked to them and never had cause to use their services."

"No, that's alright," said Noire. "You've already given us plenty of information about the town. We'll have to be careful about what we say, then."

"Well, they'll probably give you, erm, Iceheart was it? Ah, yes, they'll probably give you some lenience. Even my tribe has heard of the Crystal Ponies and their history. If you explain your circumstances then likely several of the guides would take you out."

"I see. Thank you for the advice," Iceheart said, giving Strongheart and Braeburn a nod.

"Shucks, that's not a problem. Sorry, but we can't stay around too long now, we've gotta be getting back to Appleloosa and this is our train," Braeburn said, returning Iceheart's nod with a quick flick of his hat. Without further adieu, the stallion and buffalo walked onto the train, leaving the three mares behind.


There wasn't much for choice for hotels in Dodge Junction, but the lack of choice also made the process quicker. In no time, the three had booked a room and dropped off their saddlebags, and went down to the local bar, the Salt Lick Saloon.

Trixie took point as she had had the most experience with actually negotiating with others, whereas Iceheart was a pony who had mostly commanded. Trotting in front, Trixie opened the saloon doors, walking inside.

Her first impression was a good one. Unlike many of the bars Trixie had seen around Equestria, this one was actually well-lit, with a natural skylight of all things. Though the large room could be said to be rustic, being constructed of wood and ventilation open to the outside air, it was also fairly clean. The atmosphere was pleasant, with ponies and the odd other creature, such as a Diamond Dog here, and a buffalo there, sitting around the tables and bar. While there were hints of mild unease and fear here and there, the dominant mood of the room was camaraderie.

"Greetings, what can I get for you!" The bartender said as he saw the three mares who had come in. He was a white-coated unicorn, who was currently using his magic to clean several glasses at once with a squirt of water followed by a washcloth. "Oh, a Crystal pony! You're a long ways from home. You're only the second one down here I've seen since the Empire reappeared."

"We'll each take drinks and a meal. We just got off the train, so we're all a little bit peckish," Trixie said, hopping onto one of the bar stools. "What is the special today?"

"My chef has got chilled cherry soup in the back, along with a beets salad and cherry chimichangas," said the bartender.

Trading looks with Iceheart and Noire to confirm that they were alright with it, Trixie turned back towards the bartender and said, "In that event, we'll get a meal each. Just water for now, please."

The bartender put his glasses down, walking through a door into the back area, returning seconds later, "OK, that'll be a few minutes. Anything else I can get you ladies? Are you here for vacation, business, visiting family?" Many of the ponies at the table turned their attention to the three mares who had just come in, also curious.

"Not quite any of those," said Iceheart. "We're here to go to the Badlands. A thousand years ago I met a changeling. Though she is undoubtedly dead by now, I would like to at least see the hive she hailed from, and I need a guide who can take us."

Conversation around the bar table halted almost immediately, and while the ponies out in the commons were still chatting, a few of them had also overheard Iceheart and turned to stare.

Trixie almost wanted to smack her head with hoof, as she felt the suspicion that had suddenly permeated the bar. She didn't want attention like this!

"I'll do it."

"Hmm?" Trixie asked, and she looked towards the end of the bar where the speaker was.

That day in Dodge Junction was the first time that Trixie laid eyes on the red pegasus.

The first thing that she noticed was his coat and mane. It wasn’t quite rare for ponies to have similar colours of body and head and tail hair, but it wasn’t common either. The pony who had rudely spoken up, however, was a uniformly brilliant bright sheen of red all over, with only the most keen eye capable of telling where hair ended and coat began. Even his eyes were a vibrant red, though at the time they were more malicious than mirthful. Only the pup and whites of his eyes and his Cutie Mark, a pair of dark red wings overlaid a picture of the globe, detracted from the uniform colour of red.

The second thing Trixie noticed was that he had only one wing, with the left one missing.

"The name's Red," said the one-winged pegasus, hopping out of his stool and making his way down to where the three mares were. "If you want to go out into the Badlands, I've been out on several expeditions so far, and I've been to the hive twice before. I know how to deal with the changelings. They're paranoid buggers, but so long as you're willing to put up with the security precautions they have, it's possible to speak with them." His voice was on the deeper side for a stallion, with a slight scratchy quality to it.

There was a flash of deceit when he introduced himself, Trixie thought. Red probably wasn't his real name, but did that mean he was a changeling? It was impossible for her to tell if somepony was truly a pony or a changeling just by reading their emotions. "And how do we know you're not a changeling yourself, then?" Trixie asked.

Red laughed, and many of the ponies cringed at hearing it. It wasn't a nice laugh. Instead, it came out more as a mad bark, but Trixie could easily feel the amusement underneath, combined with just a little bit of pain. What was with this pegasus? 

"Me, a Changeling? Hah! What Changeling would want to take my form?"

There were multiple nods from other ponies, and Trixie had to concede the point. The changeling transformation was a full, physical transformation. It would take an incredible commitment to living full-time as a crippled pony to stay in a pony town, when the changeling could all too easily have both wings and be able to fly at will, or perhaps a horn instead.

"Any other pony in town, they could be a changeling. Me, there's no way. If I were a Changeling there's no way I'd continue living with one wing," Red said.

"That may be true," Noire said from aside Trixie, "But we still do not know you. Is anypony else here willing to vouch for Red?"

"Red is one of our best guides, even with only one wing," said the bartender from behind her, setting their drinks down on the table. "He may have just washed in one day, but he's as good as any hometown pony here."

"Very well then. Is there anyone else here qualified to take us out?" Trixie asked, hoping for a second option to barter for a lower guide fee. She looked around, and grimaced as there didn't seem to be any other guides willing to volunteer. Negotiation would be a pain in the flanks, then.

"Unlikely," Red said. "Most of them are helping to set up for the cherry-growing season. Obviously I can't bring in clouds, or else I'd be out there, too."

Trixie winced. Red was so nonchalant about his injury, but every time he mentioned it there was a tightly wound coil of pain underneath. No pegasus could help but to grieve over the loss of flight, and Red was one of those who was able to put on a brave face, but was still hurting. Trixie would have to try to be sensitive about it.

"Very well, let's talk. Bartender, we'll take that table, please," Trixie said, pointing to an empty table before she lifted their glasses of water up, moving them over to the table. As she saw other ponies follow her, she cleared her throat loudly. Embarrassed faces turned aside, and the room buzzed with conversation again.


"Five hundred bits a pony, plus cost of supplies. If you end up staying at the hive, an extra two hundred bits a day that I act as your guide."

"Two hundred fifty a pony, you give us a list and we'll buy what's required. Iceheart is a former military pony who's had experience with hostile conditions and Noire and I have both travelled lots through rugged terrain, so we don't need a babysitter, just a guide. One hundred bits per day extra."

"Don't make me laugh, two hundred fifty bits? Hmm, you all look like you're in good physical condition, I'll make it four hundred each and one seventy-five per day extra. If I let you go to the shop you'll buy the cheapest things there, that's no good. If you go out into the Badlands you need quality."

After introducing one another more in-depth, Trixie and Red bargained hard over the price of their expedition into the Badlands, with the occasional interjection from Iceheart and Noire. Their food came, giving Trixie a break as she went through the food. While the beets and chimichanga weren't great, they were reasonable. The chilled cherry soup, however, was very good, and Trixie resolved to come back here another day if it went on special again for the soup alone.

They also talked about the conditions of the Badlands, and the security of the changelings. "We may have to walk around a bit before we catch their attention, I can't guarantee they'll be expedient in noticing we're out there, even when I create a signal. If they let us in, they'll put sleeping spells on all of us and take us to the hive so we can't find it on our own. You'll be asked to pay a toll of emotional energy before they accept us. Once inside, you'll each have at least two guards on you at all times."

"Two days? I see, Iceheart, is it? Drink lots of water, make sure to get lots of salt, don't use a cooling spell or your room AC at all, your body will adapt faster. Go for a light walk tonight and a longer walk tomorrow, but no more than a few hours."

"If none of you have a hat, get one. Sunstroke is a terrible thing to have happen out in the Badlands."

"No, I don't care if you can make a cloud, Trixie. Clouds require moisture and there isn't much in the Badlands. Then you need to push it with you everywhere you go. Too much work."

Being able to sense emotions was usually a boon for Trixie in making deals, but Red was as tough as nails. It was entirely possible he had forged his negotiating skills through multiple bargaining sessions with changelings in disguise, but there was something more to it. Red lacked guile when actually negotiating, seeming to have no interest other than yielding as much profit as possible. It was tough to stay looking at him vis-a-vis: his red eyes burned with a passionate fire that would have scared Trixie were she not certain that it reflected her own in certain brave moments of her past.

That, and if Trixie were to let her eyes wander, she knew they would eventually settle on the stub on Red Wing's left side. Not only would it be rude, it was also something she didn't want to think about, so she stayed focused and kept her eyes right ahead. 

At last, the two sat back, having bumped hooves on a formal deal, and Trixie had to actually wipe a thin sheen of sweat off her brow. While it had been exhausting, it had also been exhilarating. Trixie could feel tinges of admiration from both Noire and Iceheart directed at her.

"So two days from now, we'll set out at dawn. If our stay in the hive is brief that should be enough time to get back before night time," Red said. He was using his lone wing to hold a pen as he wrote details down on paper. "I'll collect half tomorrow afternoon, so be certain to visit the branch and be ready with the bits when I visit, I need some of that money for supplies anyways."


"In that case, I'll be off," Red said, rising up from his seat. Rolling up the paper, he tucked it and his pen into his mane before striding out of the bar.

"Whew," Trixie said as she fell from her position sitting on her haunches down onto all fours.

"Yes, Red has that effect on others," the bartender said as he came by, filling up their glasses with more water. "He was like that even when he first arrived in Dodge Junction. Yes, both the attitude and the missing wing. I can only guess that one led to the other."

"In what order?" Iceheart asked.

The bartender shrugged, as he wrote up a receipt for their bill, "Either, really. He could have lost that wing from circumstances caused by his personality, or maybe he lost a wing and took a turn for the worst. Well, he may be a bit cruel at times, but he's not a bad pony."

"You've drank with him?" Iceheart continued to ask him questions.

"Oh yes, not often, but on occasion. He's not an angry drunk, fortunately, but he does get a bit sulky. He knows his job, though. He's never had any issue with the changelings, and I believe it when he says he's not a changeling." The bartender chuckled, then added, "Changelings absorb energy from positive emotions, right? It's very rare for Red to evoke positive emotions in others."

Trixie shared his chuckle, but swallowed nervously as well, her throat suddenly dry. While it didn't happen very often, Red's emotions had occasionally slipped when something related to his missing wing came up. It was like a firestorm, a mixture of anger, depression, and sorrow. The bartender was practically singing Red's praises, but she hoped that the ticking bomb didn't go off while they were out in the Badlands.


The remainder of that day and the next flew by quick, as Trixie only briefly saw Red again to give him half his fee upfront. Iceheart managed to slowly tolerate the heat, but it was a work in progress. They bought wide-rimmed hats to protect from the sun.

Noire, meanwhile, sat on the chair next to the hotel room's window, looking out in the Badlands. She wondered what it would be like to lose a wing and never be able to fly again.

It was a tough prospect. Every time her mind wandered to it, she physically recoiled. Noire loved the sky, from the first time she had been carried into the air by her father, to when she had finally been able to fly on her own. As a hybrid, she had an option with magic that most pegasi didn't if she were to lose a wing. Even still, the very idea left her nauseous. 

Noire shook off the thought when it did occur. Sadly, the project for prosthetic wings that the academics in Canterlot had mooted was making incredibly slow progress. As very few pegasi lost a wing, there just wasn't much demand for it. Noire didn't expect it would come to fruition in her lifetime, and so Red would be forever confined to the ground.

She exhaled, going through breathing exercises to calm her state of mind. Tomorrow, they would go into the Badlands. There, hopefully, they would meet a queen of the Changelings, reveal the destruction of the ice, reminiscence about her and Trixie's lost fathers, and find out what information the hive had about the magically-hybrid pony offspring of pony-changeling couples. It would be a big meeting, one that would require many delicate words.

Every second that ticked on the hotel room's clock was one second closer to that confrontation.


Early the next morning, Trixie, Noire and Iceheart found themselves in a corner of the hotel's lobby, along with Red. There, they were putting together supply kits and saddlebags for each one of them.

"Let's see, you each have four bottles of water, check. Each of you have a half dozen salt cubes, check. Rope of sufficient length, good," Red muttered as he continued to count off items. The red stallion was single-minded in his work. Trixie couldn't sense a drop of fear from Red, even though he was soon to go out into a territory inhabited by the changelings, a race that had years ago invaded Canterlot and was still ponysa non grata with the rest of equinekind.

At last, he rose up, and said, "Everything is in order. Now, this is your last chance if you want to back out. Remember, I cannot promise that you will not come to harm. Changelings are the enemies of ponies, after all. If you do, however, the upfront fee is still non-refundable."

Trixie smirked. If only he knew that two of the three mares he was to escort had had changelings for a parent, Red might not have been so grating. Alas, he did seem talented and experienced and came recommended, so they had to make do with what they had. He would be the one to take them to Queen Chrysalis. "We didn't come this far just to scamper off with our tails tucked in between our flanks."

Red cracked a grin in return, and he said, "I like you, I really like you, that's a good attitude. In that case, we're off to the Badlands!"
Alternate title names for this Arc were 'Freedom Wings' and 'On the Wings of Freedom'. I felt the current Arc title felt the most poetic, so there it is.

I've been looking forward to writing this chapter. Given Dodge Junction is so close to the Badlands (according to the single 'official' map of Equestria), I decided there must be some sort of guarded awareness that there are probably Changelings around. They could try rooting them out but the rabbit hole may go deep enough that they could create a disaster in doing so. Much like with trying to create the Crystal ponies where they find themselves a thousand years in the future and are struggling to catch up culturally in the Stasis arc, here I attempted to develop that culture of a mix of grudging suspicion of who your neighbors might be but also accepting them for their personality and not whatever their true race is.

I'm of the mind that prosthetic wings were only developed as a response to multiple injuries in the Crystal War timeline, and that regular timeline Equestria doesn't have them, hence why Red doesn't have a prosthetic.

Next chapter will involve a trip into the Badlands, so before I write it I'm going to take a hike through actual physical badlands to get a better feel for it before writing it.


Well-Known Member
Upon the Wings of Freedom: The Badlands
"White sagebrush isn't as common as regular green sagebrush, but there's functionally no difference between the two beside the way they look. Ponies and changelings of old used to use it for medicinal purposes, but nowadays modern medicine has superseded it. As a last resort, if you cannot find any source of water, you can chew on it to alleviate thirst, but I do not recommend it."

Red used his single wing to remove a knife from his satchel, walking over to a cactus. "Your better bet if you cannot find water is to go for the fruit of a cactus. Since I'm around, I know where to find the small pools of water in the badlands, but in case I am incapacitated it is best to learn this. See the fruit of the cactus, this red part? You'll have to handle it carefully because of the spines, though since you're a unicorn, Trixie, you can use magic to hold it without getting stung. Watch, you have to skin the spines." Awkwardly, Red grabbed a fruit with his front hooves, holding it gently so as to not push the spines past the hard keratin of his outer hoof and into the soft inside. Slowly, he sliced the fruit open, pulling out a yellow-white inside.

"You can also take several of these and boil them in water to remove the spins and skin, but since you're looking for water in the first place, that defeats the purpose. You can also skin the actual cactus itself for water, but it tends to be more difficult. Oh! I've never seen any barrel fruit cactus in the badlands, they have yellow fruit that looks a little like a small pineapple, but if you do find one, don't touch it. The water they have is usually poisonous, and even the spores are capable of causing infection."

It didn't take long for Red to start displaying why the bartender had recommended him as a guide. Soon after they crossed the line where the weather ponies stopped being responsible for weather, the land turned from rolling blankets of greenery into a drier, arid brown. The make-up of the flora quickly shifted, from bluegrass and cherry trees into sagebrush, cacti, ferns and shrubby grasses, whatever could survive in the badlands. The one-winged pegasus had immediately started explaining the terrain to them, and what to watch out for.

To say the badlands were full of rolling hills was an understatement. The hills towered over the terrain, with cliff faces dropping several hundred feet at a near ninety degree angle from the side of the hills into multiple valleys below.

"Way back in the day, before we warmed the planet up, there were glaciers in the badlands," Red had said when asked about the geography. "The glaciers were so massive they moved under their own mass. Not very quickly, mind you, but over the course of many years they moved through here and carved out large valleys. When the world warmed up, the glaciers melted, creating river beds in the valleys and a few small lakes. Then the water mostly evaporated too, leaving the badlands the way it is today. Uncontrolled precipitation comes off the eastern seaboard and gives the badlands a little bit of water. What falls on top of the hills, or coulees is the more technical name, but nobody local uses them, drains down into the valleys." He made a pointing motion with his lone wing at the many small lines that existed in the hill crags, where it was evident water had streamed down in rivulets, slowly gouging out lines. A few small shrubs were growing on the cliff faces, using the position to extract water dripping down and guard against the intense sun and high winds on top of the coulees.

Iceheart was quick to make an assessment of the natural advantage of the badlands. "It would be difficult to pursue anypony who fled into the badlands," She said. The rolling hills and the deep valleys made for an easy hideaway. It would require hundreds of ponies to find a single refuge.

Red snorted.  "They'd have to both survive the heat and the changelings, who deem any fugitive free rein to do with as they wish. Do not get me wrong, many have tried. Only a few escape. I would not be surprised to one day stumble across a pile of bones. There is a section of the badlands called the Horseshoe Canyon, so-named because the only thing that was found of one pony once was his horseshoes."

Trixie wrinkled her nose at that anecdote. It didn't bear thinking much about. There was a reason why they had hired a guide, and Red at least seemed competent enough that they wouldn't be suffering a similar fate.

So it was that Red continued to take them deeper into the badlands, going through valleys and riverbeds, occasionally making it onto the top of the hills, where years of the badland's weather had trimmed off the hilltops, leaving them mostly flat. When the four were walking hillside, however, they were fully exposed to the elements. The morning sun beat down on them, and the gusts hit them with warm air, doing little to repel heat exhaustion.

After a few hours, Red at last brought them down into a low canyon, where the temperature dropped significantly, and the cliffs provided natural shade. With a little bit of walking, he led them straight to a pond, snugged away into a nook underneath an outcrop. "This is the Pupilla Canyon, named after a changeling queen who brought water into this part of the badlands many hundreds of years ago. Most of it has dried up, but there are still underground reservoirs that bubble up and feed small ponds here and there. There isn't really a pony equivalent name, but ponies have never settled here anyways, so the changeling names will have to do if anyone ever tries to draw a map."

The four sat down, each taking a sip from their canteen. Dry lips and tongues welcomed the water greatly, and Trixie had to pace herself, lest she choke attempting to drink her own water too quickly. The water had stayed cool, a welcome balm against the warm air of the badlands.

"So, where are the changelings, then?" Noire asked Red, curious. Neither her nor Trixie knew the hive's exact location, outside of it merely being in the badlands.

"There's no way they would ever tell me," Red stated. "Obviously they aren't living above ground, or they would have been found a long time ago. They may be living underground, but I think it's more likely they've created a network of caves within the hills here. It would be easier to move around that way, and a lot of the hills were made from layers of sediment deposited even before the age of the glaciers from ancient river beds. They would be a lot easier to tunnel through than digging deeper into the bedrock."

"You sound close to the changelings," Noire commented. There was a brief spike of fear from the red pegasus that she could feel, but it quickly evaporated. While Red had not been reticient to escort the three mares into the hilly wastes where the changelings resided, he seemed to have little affection for the pony race as a whole. Was he perhaps a misequinist? 

Red shrugged, and he said, "They have their own culture, one that would no doubt be bizarre to ponies, but in a way that makes them easier to talk to and occasionally work with. They deserve the flak they get for their invasion a few years ago, but other than that, they've been a fairly problem-free neighbor, one who it's possible for ponies to live with."

Noire just about felt suffocated by the sudden intense feeling of longing emanating from Red as he looked over at the stub on the left side of his body. Even when he looked back up it was still there, lingering in his bright red eyes.

Ah, now Noire could see why he felt such affinity for the changelings. If he was one, then Red could simply transform away his wing injury.


"It feels more like we've been going up and down rather than actually moving," Trixie whined. She was used to rough journeys over rugged terrain, but the sheer amount of steep elevations the four ponies had to go up and down constantly had left her winded. Compared to the former military or guardsponies Iceheart and Noire, and Red, who seemed to live and breath the badlands' geography, Trixie was the weakest link. The unicorn wasn't used to being the one who had to call for a break.

Red grunted. "You are doing significantly better than most who come out here. Let's get over this next hill, and we will take a break. There is not much to actually see in the badlands, but over the hill is one of the few things it's worth stopping for to take a look."

Trixie stopped to take in a few breaths, wiped aside a slick trail of sweat from the damp fur of her forehead, then continued on grudgingly following Red up the hill.

"Having a hard time, Trix?" Noire asked as she flapped beside her, looking amused.

"Someday, someday I'll figure out how to self-levitate, I swear," Trixie said. "Then I'll be laughing."

Noire chuckled. "I'll keep the skies open and clear the day you do."

The two kept bantering at one another, but kept their low. Noire had restricted her flight through most of the badlands. Part of it was hesitation at exposing herself when they were flying over top of the hills. The other part of it was the concentrated feelings of loss Red felt and Noire and Trixie could both detect whenever Noire took to the air. By that same logic, Trixie did not talk about the subject of self-levitation when within earshot of the one-winged pegasus, a subject that she was figuring out in bits and pieces.

The four ponies, three mares and a lone stallion, finally cleared the steep pathway leading from their current valley up into the canyon. Once Trixie stopped to gather her breath, she looked over in the direction Red was facing. "Oh, wow," was all the words she could muster.

"Those are the hoodoos. You may have heard of 'voodoo' magic practiced by some of the shamans in Neigh Orleans. It's sometimes referred to as 'hoodoo' magic instead. One day, supposedly, a changeling thought it looked rather like a hoodoo magician he had once seen that stood upright when casting and wore a large, rounded hat, and the name stuck. That's as good a name to me as any. I suppose if a pony were to name it, she'd probably come up with something cliche like a mushroom spire or something like that, then expect to get a place in history books for naming them."

Off in the distance, away from the river valleys and hills there stood a large number of rock pillars reaching towards the heavens. Time had hacked away at them oddly, savaging many of them by breaking them off partway down, leaving jagged tops. Other pillars, however, were smoothed out by time's more gentle currents, but were topped by large caprocks significantly wider than the stone spires they adorned.

"How does that even happen?" Iceheart asked. It had been cold, always cold in the Crystal Empire, so to see the results of a different ecosystem were fascinating.

"Wind currents come off the eastern sea, and wear away at the hoodoos over time. When there was actually water in the badlands, it first built up the sediment layers that make up the hoodoos, and later it wore away at the softer sections. Wind and water both disproportionately affect the lower layers of rock, leaving that odd mushroom-like top. Not very many come out this far, given the changelings, but I have had a couple of daredevils who try to scale these. Don't, by the way. It's not very fun to treat someone for a fall this far away from Dodge Junction."

"That wasn't our plan for today. I'm pretty sure that wasn't our plan for ever, for that matter," said Trixie.

"Good," Red said. "Falls are bad mojo in my life."

Trixie raised her eyebrows. There was just a little too much anger in those words. Normally, she would attempt to be tactful, but then, Red had practically invited her to ask. "Your wing, was it?"

"Not quite," Red said, and all three mares turned to face him, listening intently. "Close enough, though. Once, when I was younger, more foolish than I am now, I attempted to break up a tornado that was zooming in on my hometown. I succeeded in neutralising it, but it clipped my wing. I fell onto my wing, and it was mangled beyond repair, so they removed it before it could become gangrenous."

That was it? Trixie thought.

"That was a clinical description," Iceheart remarked. "Then again, you have probably described the events many times over the years, so I do not blame you. I am more curious, however, about how you eventually ended up in Dodge Junction."

Red grinned. Underneath the surface was a clumpy mix of happiness and depression, and Trixie had to fight the urge to recoil at it. It had been a long time since she had opened herself to feeling the emotions of others as much as she had in the last few weeks. Even then, she had usually opened herself up when in front of a crowd, where she could feed on the excitement of the ponies watching her show. Being subject to the more run-of-the-mill moods of ponies such as Iceheart and Red were a learning lesson for her. Trixie thought she had been empathetic before, but she was only now beginning to learn just how naive she had been.

"There's not too much to tell about that. I left home because I couldn't tolerate it anymore. Some ponies practically smothered me with affection, and others crossed the street to stay away from me. All of them looked at me as if I were a cripple, even though I can still work. I took odd jobs here and there, mostly on farms, until I eventually came down to Dodge Junction." Red shrugged, turning his head around to look at either side of him before looking back at the hoodoos. "It's still not quite home, but at least ponies here, be they actual ponies or changelings, are still mostly concerned with what you can do, as opposed to who or what you are."

"Anyways!" Red suddenly said, "Do you see that one hoodoo in the distance? Not the white one, but the one standing next to the white one."

The deflection was obvious, but Trixie obliged Red, following his hoof. The spire he pointed at was an odd one. Instead of going straight up, it jutted out at an angle. Furthermore, it had two bends in the formation before ending in the caprock. There were even a few holes going through the hoodoo. "Wait a minute, that looks like-"

"Like a horn, yes. The changelings call that Metamorph's Horn, after an old tyrant queen they deposed. I don't know whether they found it funny to do so or meant it seriously, naming that rock after her that is, but they only named it after she was killed."

Trixie vaguely knew the name of Queen Metamorph. Her father had never told her very much about Changeling lore, but the tale of Queen Metamorph was one of the few things he had regaled her with. Queen Metamorph had been a terrible queen intent on attacking another hive elsewhere, but at the last minute she had been betrayed by her guards and assassinated, thus cutting her rule short several hundred years ago. While Wooden Chisel had considered himself to be a stateless subject more than anything else, he was at least happy enough with Princess Celestia's rule to pay his taxes every year and send Trixie off to a school named after the Solar Princess.

Trixie could only hope that Queen Chrysalis would be better than some of the other Changeling Queens of the past. Suddenly, she felt as if she might be walking into a trap of her own making.

She scrunched her nose. That was unlikely. Red had apparently returned from the hive twice before, so it wasn't as if the changelings snatched any ponies that came into their grasp and prevented them from leaving. Trixie would just have to keep her head high and control her emotions so well that the Queen could not even feel Trixie's fear.

"Anyways, there's not too much more to walk, maybe another half an hour to go. It's all downhill from here, too, so no more climbing up."

"Thank goodness," Trixie said at that last statement. All four of her limbs burned. Stopping to take a look at the hoodoos had only made the aching sensation in her body more acute.


True to Red's words, the four ponies slowly started dropping down into another dry river valley. However, something was distinctly different about the riverbed here. Instead of the narrow cuts and winding curves of the lowlands in the rest of the badlands, the valley here was far wider, with the distance between cliffs spanning several hundred hoof-lengths. Evidence of past water flow through the valley was limited. It hardly seemed likely that water or glaciers alone could have created this area. There was an extensive amount of greenery, however, with a high density of shrubs and brush, and even a few trees.

Trixie looked it over. She wondered. When she had gotten rid of the Windigo ice in the North, she hadn't so much destroyed it as she had erased it by convincing the world that the ice simply was not there, though converting such a novel concept into a magical spell had been the culmination of years of practice and months of thought-exercises. Similarly, she had been able to cajole objects to change shape and mass before. Would she perhaps be able to apply the same idea to creating something, such as water in the valley? It would bear thinking about, but conjuring something through the specialised use of illusions was likely to be even more difficult than erasing something. The block of ice had only been the size of a few houses put together, too. She would need something larger than that to make a truly drastic difference here.

"This is Mirage's Gorge. Unlike most other areas in the badlands, this area was deliberately dug out and enlarged in the past through the extensive use of magic to create an outdoor gathering place and even to grow grass crops in wetter years. Sometimes even before Equestria was created as a nation-state, Queen Mirage resolved a war between multiple changeling hives, holding several meetings in the gorge here. Because of that, changelings hold the Gorge to be a holy ground. No fighting may take here, ever, even against other races. They will go to extreme ends to keep this a sanctuary, and that is why we will stay here until the changelings see that we are here."

Iceheart said, "Interesting. Would they not have precautions against the possibility of ponies or other races using this fact against them?"

Red shrugged. "It is highly unlikely they could be cajoled into mounting an army or going through here anyways. Even assuming they don't have underground caverns to bypass the Gorge when moving around, this is the largest, most open low area around. They would never attempt a fight here. The narrow valleys and the high hills are a natural advantage for the changelings if they ever had to fight defensively. They know the terrain better than I do. Now, who has the flares?"

"I do," Noire said, opening up her saddlebag and removing a tightly wound pack of flare sticks. "I assume this is how you will be getting their attention?"

"Yes," Red affirmed.

"But wouldn't that be anathema, then, to set off flares in a place of sanctuary?"

"Not really. I don't know why, either. It is just one of those cultural things that I have yet to decipher, although I have not really thought to straight-up ask, either," Red said as he grabbed the flares out of Noire's wing with his own wing, before putting them down on the ground. Using hooves and his single wing to set up the flares, he backed away. "Noire, Iceheart, Trixie, fifty hoof-steps should be sufficient. Trixie, if you know a spell to reduce volume, that would be helpful. Otherwise, everypony should cover their ears."

"I know one," said Trixie. "Do you want me to light the flares as well with magic? I've used a few of them in the past."

"That would be very helpful," Red agreed.

The four moved across the field, past a couple of trees and finally stopped right next to a tiny puddle, perhaps two hoof-lengths in diameter.  Turning around, Trixie cast the sound-dampening spell, setting it to fully silence any noise coming into their immediate perimeter. Opening her mouth, she yelled at Red to get his attention. Red, in turn, nodded for her to start at seeing how effective her spell was.

Trixie's next spell was to light up the fuse for the flares. Holding her hoof up, she watched in the distance as the fuse burned down, and then swung her hoof down just as the flares lit up.

Without the loud crack-boom sound, the flares were not very impressive. They lacked the visual flair that Trixie loved in her fireworks, merely kicking up a lot of dust and smoke. She could feel the slight change in air pressure as the air vibrated around her, but at the distance they were from the flares, it was only slightly noticeable.

Satisfied that the flares had gone off as planned, she dropped her sound-muffling spell. "How was that?" Trixie asked.

"Good, good," Red said. "The changelings will be here sooner than later."

"You know, I'm curious about something," Noire said. She stopped speaking, looking unsure about what she had been about to say, only to go ahead and say it, "Weren't you worried that we might have been changelings ourselves?"

"Not really. Maybe if you were changelings from another hive who were on their way to start a war or something, but I doubt it. Well, I will admit that Mirage's Gorge makes me feel safe. It would have to be a truly rogue changeling or changeling hive to pick a fight here, even with me, a pony. It's possible but not likely the hive will decide to keep me this time, either. From what I've figured, they like to have a few open points of communication with Dodge Junction, ones that both sides, well, they don't really trust me, but they don't have any reason for mistrust either. Although," Red raised a single red eyebrow. The motion was difficult to tell as the colour of his eyebrow blended into the rest of his red coat, but it could be detected with the telltale stretching of his eyelid and eye muscles. "You aren't changelings, are you?"

"No, we are not. I am curious, honestly, as to whether a changeling would be capable of duplicating the effect of the Crystal Heart on her coat when she transforms into a pony or, for that matter, if she could undergo the crystalling the same way we Crystal ponies do," said Iceheart.

"They probably won't tell you. Like I told you before, they're paranoid. If you knew either way, you could potentially use that information to narrow down changelings hiding out as ponies up north. Speaking of which, you lived in the north. We have time to waste before the changelings arrive. I would like to hear about your homeland. I hope to be able to travel again some day, and I would love to visit the Crystal Empire." Red sighed wistfully.

Trixie froze. She knew that sigh, and that complicated swirl of emotions. She had made the same sigh day in and day out for two years. It was the sigh of a pony who was stuck in one place for too long and wished to move on. It was more than that, though. Every pony wanted to be able to move, yearned to explore, but few had such an intense desire as Red did in that last statement of his. His dreams of freedom equalled the intensity of his longing for his lost left wing. No, more than that. No doubt his two desires were closely related to one another. While it was still possible to move around Equestria and beyond on four hooves, with only one wing Red no doubt keenly felt the loss of all the places he would never be able to go. That he had apparently been in Dodge Junction for some time due to whatever circumstance only frustrated him even more.

Red was possessed of wanderlust, and had no way to exorcise the spirit within. Staying in Dodge Junction, he had fought by coming out into the badlands as a tour guide, the better that he could at least go somewhere, do something. No wonder he seemed accepting of the changeling race. As natural empaths, they could sense the natural frustration that had built up in his one-winged frame, with no way to vent it.

For him, to soar through the sky would be to fly upon the wings of freedom, wouldn't it? Trixie thought, then winced. That didn't come out quiet as poetic as she thought it would.

"Well, it is difficult to know really where to start. Obviously, it is cold in the north. The Crystal Heart provides a protective dome that goes to the outskirts of the city proper. Under the dome the city is climate-controlled, and kept at a moderate temperature. Our architecture was based on our ability to grow crystals, a magic I am told Equestria never was able to get the hang of, so after a thousand years the buildings look even more unique compared to the rest of the country."

"I heard they got that dictator guy, Somebra or something, good? Like, vapourised him?"

"Sombra, not Somebra. Most Crystal ponies do not like using his true name, and prefer calling him by his other epithet, the Witch King. But yes, he was defeated by our new Princess mi Amore Cadenza and a glorious dragon warrior, Spike the Saviour, presumably killed."

"Wait a minute, you don't think he was killed?" Noire suddenly asked, surprised at Iceheart's last few words.

Iceheart glowered at being interrupted, but took it in stride. "I said presumably killed. Sombra was a practitioner of dark magic and brought us into a thousand year stasis. I would not have put it past him to find a way to defy death. It is, I believe a more modern saying would be to hope for the best and prepare for the worst."

"Wise words to live by," Red said, nodding his head.

Iceheart continued, taking brief pauses to find words to say. "Outside of the city proper are the frozen wastes of the north. For many tens of thousands of hoof-lengths to the north, the terrain is mostly the ice flats, with ice and snow year-round. For a few weeks every year the air is warm, even as the ground continues to stay cold under your hooves. Even having lived up there for my entire life, it is still an odd sensation. The Windigos disappeared sometimes during our stasis, but they left behind fossilised remains that are magically capable of inducing cold fronts and snowstorms within a small localised area. To the far north and northeast of the Empire, approaching the end of the world, are the Everhoof and Crystalappleachian mountain ranges. While it is not my thing, I know a few ponies who have gone to scale the mountains. I would not recommend skiing there, however. It is simply too cold to do such a thing."

"I see, that sounds pretty, uh, cool. I am well-trained in survival, so I should not have too many issues with the cold. Well, what joints remain of my left wing ache sometimes in the cold, so that might be a problem. Oh, I see they've arrived."

Trixie, Iceheart and Noire all followed Red's gaze to see several black shapes hovering across the Gorge. As the black shapes honed in on them, they became the distinct appearance of the changelings, infamously immortalised in the papers following the failed invasion of Canterlot. A quick count put them at a dozen strong.

One changeling took point, landing down several hoof-lengths away from the group of four ponies with an excited buzz. Iceheart had to briefly look away, though she was unsurprised that she was the only one to do so. Trixie and Noire both called changelings their deceased fathers, and Red had met them many times. She had only talked to a few in passing, more than a thousand years ago.

"If it isn't Red Wing," said the lead changeling. "One, two, three ponies you've brought with you today. What is their purpose here today?"

"Red Wing?" Iceheart turned back to face Red, not certain if she had misheard what the changeling had said or not.

"My full name, I typically go by Red," he said, brushing her question aside with a wave of his hoof. "Atlas, this is Iceheart, a pony from the Crystal Empire that returned from a magical spell a few years ago. She befriended a changeling from this hive back then. The changeling is most likely dead by now, but Iceheart would like to at least see the hive she hailed from."

The changeling, Atlas, clicked his mandibles together for a few seconds, sounding agitated. "And the other two?"

"They're here accompanying Iceheart, this is Trixie, and this is Noire. Moral support maybe, though they've been travelling with her for awhile."

Atlas whinnied. It sounded just like a pony's whinny, but coming from a changeling, it was just odd. "That is what they may claim, but what I feel from them now is deceit."


Red whirled around, and the feelings of anger and betrayal were evident to Trixie and Noire. "You lied to me?!" He asked. His muzzle was twitching with rage.

Trixie sought to get ahead of the situation and defray any tempers and paranoia that might surge. "Our fathers were changelings," Trixie blurted out quickly. "Noire and mine, anyway. They met and married mares, and we were their children. Her father and my father both came from here."

The mood instantly turned around, as Red's anger turned to confusion, and the tightly-controlled emotions of the changelings uncoiled into an excited mood, with many of them buzzing at one another.

"Were changelings?" Atlas asked. "What happened to them?"

"Ponies and changelings can have children?" Red asked, but his question went unanswered.

Trixie winced at the reminder of her father's death. Thankfully, Noire took up the slack for her. "Both of them were killed. Trixie's father was caught by an army patrol and was accidentally killed before he could prove he hadn't stolen another pony's identity. My own father died in a freak fall that also dispelled his disguise."

The mood of all present went somber at Noire's words. Only Iceheart and Red had some semblance of something else, Iceheart because she had already heard her companions' stories, Red because he was still apparently befuddled by the possibility of changelings and ponies having foals together. The changelings themselves as one felt remorse. Even if the two changelings had left the hive, they had still been a part of the hive once, and their deaths were something to grieve over.

"I don't sense any more deceit, and they are feeling intense sadness," Atlas suddenly announced. "Very well. Red Wing, have you told them about the procedure?"

"The, huh, what? Oh, the procedure?! Yes, yes, I did. Well, I don't know if it works differently on half-ponies, and Iceheart, her coat has magic from the Crystal Heart infused in it, I don't know if that does something either."

Atlas chattered for a brief moment, before he answered Red, "They aren't 'half-pony', it doesn't work that way, they're fully-pony. Lore about the Crystal Heart has been passed down over the years, and sleeping magic should not interfere with the crystalling effect. Ponies, Iceheart, Trixie, Noire." The changeling turned to face the three mares. He was no longer scowling as he had before, and instead looked interested. "We will use magic on you to knock you out and put you into a state of deep sleep, and take you to the hive while you are asleep. If you refuse, we will escort you away from the Gorge back to the area of Metamorph's Horn. While you are in the hive, you will be expected to give up some of your emotional energy as the price for entering. Trixie and Noire, you had changeling fathers, so you should understand how that works. Iceheart, we will give you advice on how to tell when you are becoming fatigued. When you are feeling drained, you must tell us so that we will back off. Is that understood?"

All three traded looks. They hadn't come this far just for nothing.

Atlas turned to face the last member of the quartet that had journeyed from Dodge Junction. "Red Wing, if what I am feeling now is any indicator, I assume you are also coming?"

Red nodded, and said, "Yes, that is correct."

"Very well. If you have any anti-magic training, do not attempt to resist this spell." Atlas turned to move away back into the host of changelings behind him, even as four other changelings moved out in front, each of them with a horn glowing.

It was difficult for Trixie to let down her natural defenses against magic, first trained at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns and then trained on the road as she dodged predators and hecklers. However, she had made it this far, and she did not want to be let down by a mishaps with her-


"Ah, so the unicorn awakes."

Trixie awoke slowly. To say she was groggy was an understatement. Grog was a funny word, and now it was as if grog was a physical substance, condensed into a fluid and weighing her head down to the floor. Still, even through the thick layer of grog that held her down, Trixie was still able to notice a few things. First, she was laying down on something rather soft, unlikely for the badlands. Second, wherever she was now was humid, even less likely.

That could only mean one thing, and it was that conclusion that inspired Trixie to finally pull herself up into a sitting position, resting most of her weight on her haunches. With one front hoof, she managed to wipe out the crust from her eyes, shaking off the lethargy that still pervaded her very being.

"Atlas told me about your stories while you were out. Red Wing, I can confirm that they are, in fact, each the child of a changeling."

"So then-"

"No, I apologise, but it is impossible for a pony to father a foal with a changeling. It is only the other way around that is possible, a changeling male with a pony female. I am treading the line already with how much information I am willing to give out, even to you, but there are certain magical and biological impossibilities for you as a stallion. If only you were a mare."

There was silence for several seconds, which Trixie used to open her eyes, adjusting to the dimmer lighting of the cavern she knew herself to be in.

"If you ever desire to live here, you are more than welcome. The emotions you give us would more than outweigh any burdens you may bring, including your mark, and one of the other mares may be willing."

"No, but thank you again for the offer. You know how I feel about it. I would love to, praise the world I would love to, but I still cannot help but think I would ultimately find myself dissatisfied."

The male voice was distinctly Red, or perhaps Trixie should call him Red Wing. Well, he preferred to go by Red, so that would be Trixie's go-to name for him for now. His voice, deeper than the normal pony with a slightly scratchy quality to it, was easy to pick out. It lacked the same verbal tics nearly all changelings in their natural state had, too.

Trixie had a good idea of who the female was, but there was just something off about the changeling Queen's voice. It was as if the Queen had two voices, simultaneously overlaid but out-of-sync with one another, creating an odd ringing effect in Trixie's ears, but there was still something even beyond that which Trixie could not put a hoof on.

"Ah, yes. Wanderlust, ennui, restlessness. A handful of changelings suffer from it as well, and leave the hive to go live out in the broader world. I suspect that is why the fathers of these two mares left."

Finally, Trixie's eyesight settled. Her vision no longer blurring, Trixie looked around the room, zooming over Iceheart, Red and Noire, all awake and standing, along with several changelings, before finally settling on the Queen.

Queen Chrysalis of the Badlands Hive sat upon a modest throne carved from rock. She towered over regular changelings both in body and in horn, standing on par with Princess Celestia. Her stature was exaggerated even more due to her sitting position on the throne, up on a pedestal. Unlike other changelings, she also had a teal mane resembling a pony's own hair. Finally, her green eyes were distinct from the blue eyes of others.

"So you're all awake now. That's good." Queen Chrysalis didn't so much buzz as she practically purred, and she asked, "So tell me, who were your fathers, and how did you come to decide to return to the hive they hailed from?"

Trixie blanked out. Here she was, finally face-to-face with the Changeling Queen her father had lived under before he left. She had a limb-length scroll's worth of questions to ask, and yet the only thing she could think of was, Why does her voice sound so much like mine?

Yes, Trixie made a voice actor joke about Chrysalis (they're both voiced in the English show by Kathleen Barr). It doesn't mean anything, there's not going to be any plot twist in the next chapter relating to it. I regret nothing. 

The changelings here aren't universally antagonistic. They're willing to have limited cooperation, and a pony that comes to them of his or her own free will and provides lots of love will be gratefully welcomed. The changelings are still paranoid about outsiders, though. Much like how I poked a bit at the potential culture issues of the Crystal Empire and Dodge Junction, I will do the same for the changeling hive, so the next chapter will be longer than the first two chapters. Thankfully, the first two were short enough that even a long third chapter won't be such a pain to write in comparison.

While there are a number of badlands in the world, I live close to the Alberta badlands where a lot of dinosaur fossils are excavated, and so that is what I modelled this after. What Red here says about things is about 90% accurate.


Well-Known Member
'Upon the Wings of Freedom: Red Wings'

This chapter is enough to take up two posts.


It was an odd scene in the throne room of Queen Chrysalis of the Badlands hive. The Changeling Queen sat upon a pedestal that wasn't quite proper enough to be called a dais. Several changelings stood around the room, each one at guard and ready to poke a pony at a single command. Meanwhile, Trixie found herself unable to form words, as her mind was still in a daze. She was certainly incapable of answering Chrysalis about her father.

Fortunately, Noire was far more composed. Since Chrysalis had spoken to the two of them in general, she had her own story on hoof. "My birth name is New Moon, but since I have started travelling, I have gone by Noire. My father was Incognito, which he shortened to Cognito upon leaving the hive. Later on in life, he preferred the nickname Cogs. When he left the hive, he worked for a short while in Dodge Junction. Cogs changed towns every few months, using a new pony form every time, learning new skills and picking up on pony culture. Eventually, he went to work in a clock store in Canterlot, where he found that he enjoyed tinkering with mechanical clockworks."

Though they stayed attentive to threats, the changelings were obviously interested in the story of their lost brother, focusing particularly on Noire. Trixie could feel the apprehension in the room, almost like a hum. "While working at the clock store, he was a pegasus. It was there that he met my mother, a bat pony named Frigor. After they went on a few dates, they fell in love. He revealed her true form, and she accepted him for it." Now there was a keen feeling of relief. "Bat ponies are a minority in Canterlot, and to be more easily accepted into mother's family, Cogs ditched his old job and form and became a bat pony. He was accepted by her family, and in the name of unity between bat ponies, they managed to get him a job with Canterlot's Royal Guard."

"Oh? Was he on active duty during the wedding?" Chrysalis interrupted.

Noire shook her head. "Neigh, he was on night shift duties at the time, and he was sleeping during the wedding. By the time his platoon was woken up to repel the other changelings, the fight was already over. There was a lot of paranoia in Canterlot following the wedding, but we had already gone through the detection spells in Canterlot's libraries years ago to make sure he could not be detected by standard methods. After the wedding, some of the unicorns came up with something more advanced specifically keyed for changelings. It took a lot of effort and it wasn't something we could ever scale up for all changelings, but we defeated that spell too."


"I, I am a hybrid, your majesty. I wasn't born a unicorn like Trixie was, but I was still able to use magic on a limited basis, even if I didn't most of the time. I joined the Royal Guard as well, following in my father's hoofsteps, and I was out on patrol in east Equestria during the wedding."

"I see. Continue, then."

"Yes. Anyways, Cogs enjoyed working with mechanical objects, and he continued to even after joining the Royal Guard. It was a hobby he found himself fascinated with, and I think he would have eventually left the guard to open his own workshop." Noire paused, and everyone in the room except for Iceheart and Red Wing could feel her trepidation. "Only a few months ago, he was helping somepony replace the shingles on their roof. He tripped, and punctured his specular gland. I don't know if father died instantly, but he was dead by the time I found out about the incident. Because of laws passed after the wedding, my mother urged me to run away or else I risked getting court-martialled. I fled to a rural village where Trixie lived."

The mood in the room changed to one of overwhelming sadness, and Trixie nearly choked on it. Sadness was bitter, and she went down on two knees to support the rest of her body. Working in front of crowds was a thrill when the general mood was one of excitement. However, when Trixie did plays, she never did tragedies, and rarely lingered on the sadder parts of the plays she did do. Positive emotion was easy to handle. Trixie, however, did not have the innate tolerance to negative emotions that a changeling did, and so she risked being paralysed in front of a scene such as was in front of her.

Then Trixie realised that it was the sadness of the changelings at hearing about their brother's death, and she realised that she had yet to tell them about her own father's death. The thumping of her heart in her chest was almost palpable.

"An accidental death is never the way any changeling wishes to go," Chrysalis observed. "Still, I am glad to see that Incognito at least found a happy life, and had a daughter. Given your presence here, little miss unicorn, I assume my other son also had a daughter."

Trixie swallowed as the attention of the room was focused on her. While there were many sets of blue eyes staring at her, Trixie was acutely aware of the pair of red eyes right next to her. Somehow, they surpassed even Chrysalis' green eyes.

She took a few seconds to steady her breathing, before she launched into her own story. "My father was Cicada. Later in life he changed his name to Wooden Chisel. As you would expect, he took to working with wood. It wasn't just that, mind you. He enjoyed creating things, both practical items and artistic items, with stone and metal as well, but wood was his first and greatest passion. He truly loved it, and he built many unique pieces of furniture for the family home. In Manehatten, he met my mother, September Midsummer, a unicorn. Mother was beautiful." Trixie stopped to reminiscence. In life, her mother may have been dead for a decade, but Trixie had many pictures and even her own phantasmal spell to remember her mother's image. "She was a beautiful shade of orange and yellow, almost like the sun itself."

Trixie chuckled. "Father was a little bit unoriginal, though. Changelings have black chitin and shells, and he didn't change colours one bit when he began to live full-time as a unicorn. He had a jet-black coat, a mane only a shade lighter than that, and blue eyes."

"Yes, that does sound a little like the Cicada that I recall," Chrysalis agreed. "Odd that a pony so apparently creative with crafting things would fail to come up with something so bland for his appearance. Besides, ponies are usually quite bright, with clashing colours. Well, I suppose you are an exception to that, Red Wing."

"I always thought it was the most interesting thing about me," Red Wing said.

"Anyways, mother was a frail pony," Trixie continued. "She wasn't sick or anything, she just was never really that healthy either. Mother and father made the decision to move out to Whinnychester. It's a small farming village northeast of Fillydelphia that specialises in growing wheat. It was there they hoped the quiet village life and clean air would help my mother. My parents made friends there, and my father's skills were highly valued. Father, Wooden Chisel built a house, and it was there that I was born. I grew up there, but perhaps I inherited yet another one of father's things. I was restless, and left after I grew up." Trixie omitted the part about how she went to magic school, only for her attendance to be aborted by the one thing she despised about her hybrid status.

"I found a few ponies who taught me how to perform on the stage, and even apprenticed under a playwright for a year. I wandered Equestria, performing both magic shows and acting out plays in front of audiences, both in large cities and small hamlets. By the way, I believe that would be a viable career option for changelings. Any crowd that is satisfied by a performance will generate a lot of emotions," Trixie said as an aside. "Or maybe some are already playing in Manehatten on Broadway?"

"Perhaps," Chrysalis said, not giving a hint as to whether Trixie's guess was correct. There was the mild scent of interest from the crowd, however, and Trixie guessed one or two might even try their hoof at the art, now that she had presented the possibility to them. From what Trixie's father had told her, the hive had a fairly lax policy with its members leaving to achieve their own life goals, though it could have changed in recent years, given the failed invasion. A few minutes in the throne room telling her life's story wasn't enough to tell if that was the case. "But never mind that, carry on."

"Anyways, I traveled. Mostly in Equestria, but I left the nation's borders more than a few times, going to deer and zebra country. I suppose I might have even gone to the land of the minotaurs, but one of my shows went disastrously wrong and I lost my cart and many of my possessions and props with it. I went home at the time. By then, my mother had passed on, so it was just my father by himself in Whinnychester. I spent several weeks catching up with him, as we built a new wagon for my shows." Trixie sighed, dreading her next few words. "I didn't know when I left Whinnychester that that was the last time I would see him alive."

There was apprehension in the chamber, but not as much as there was before. Trixie had to hold in a sigh of relief at that. Perhaps hearing about the death of Cognito had already desensitised the changelings to the potential death of yet another former hive member. Trixie would take it. She did not believe she could fare the full brunt of sadness again that had washed through the room once already.

"Shortly after I left, my new wagon was destroyed by vandals. I'm ashamed to admit it but I, I was afraid of going home to see father again, full of shame that I had let something he had put so much heart and work into be destroyed. Instead, low on money, I went to work on a farm for several months." There was no question about it, Trixie was most definitely going to skip the Alicorn Amulet incident. "After some time, I decided to go perform at general shows where I did not need my wagon and props, as a stage was always provided to me. It took me over a year before I decided to return home to Whinnychester."

Trixie swallowed. Even now, two and a half years after hearing about her father's death from Doctor Morning Star, it still was difficult to think about. Trixie had finally recovered enough to go explore the world, but there was always that little filly deep inside her that raged at the loss of her father. "Following the wedding incident, the Royal Guard combed through most of Equestria to root out changelings. As Noire said, they came up with a new spell that could detect changelings. When they came to Whinnychester, they found one. My father panicked, and fled. I've never really asked for the details, but I was told a guard accidentally killed him when trying to capture him. His body was burned and the ashes thrown into the river some time before I got back to Whinnychester."

This time, there was sadness, but there was also rage. Death by an accidental fall was one thing. To be killed by a pony was something else. Yet despite how the changelings' emotions washed over Trixie rather like a large wave and threatened to drown her underneath, it also felt strangely liberating. Yes, this was what Trixie had needed. Trixie needed a roomful of others mourning her father's death, she needed to be able to really feel it. Perhaps, after time itself, this was the last salve she needed to move on past that fateful day two and a half years ago.

"There have been more than a few changelings who have been forcibly returned to the badlands," Chrysalis said. "So it is not the case that ponies have been indiscriminately killing my children, though they certainly do not seem to understand that not all changelings hail from the Badlands Hive, or perhaps even the concept that there is more than one hive."

So perhaps it had been an accident. Trixie had always assumed as such, but there had always been a niggling thought that the anonymous guard in question had deliberately killed her father. Chrysalis' words didn't settle it either, but now it seemed more unlikely.

"It is sad to hear that my two sons who left the hive should both meet unfortunate ends. Still, it would appear they both led fairly happy lives, if mostly uneventful, and found peace. Their legacy continues, too," Chrysalis said, looking meaningfully at both Noire and Trixie. "I would much like to hear more stories about Incognito and Cicada, but that shall have to wait until later. Perhaps you will sup with me later. I would be curious to hear about the Crystal pony's life, too. You are the first one I have met, after all, and I was certainly not alive a thousand years ago. For now...Atlas."

"Yes, my lady," said one of the changelings, turning to face his Queen. With a start, Trixie realised it was the same changeling who had led the party that had put her to sleep. She suppressed her embarrassment, being in a room where all but two others could feel it. As she had only a few changelings between her father and her few 'uncles' to work off, it was difficult to tell the difference between changelings.

"All four of them have class two clearance. If they have an escort, the two daughters may enter class three areas. Is that understood?"

Atlas gave a brief bow. "Yes, my lady."

Chrysalis turned to face the pack of four ponies again. "As for you four...Red Wing, you already know as much, but be free with your emotions when you are in the hive! My children thrive off the goodwill and freely-given love of others. We will host you. In turn, we expect something out of it."

Trixie wrinkled her nose, taking a sidelong look at Iceheart. Well, perhaps the Crystal pony would have the chance later on to mention what she had done before leaving the Empire. Trixie was almost certain more than a few changelings would lavish her with hero worship upon finding out she had battled Windigos in the past.

Atlas turned back around to face the ponies. "If you will come with me, I shall show you to your quarters."


The four ponies walked down a tunnel which slowly sloped downwards. Red Wing was at the front, quietly conversing with Atlas, leaving Iceheart, Trixie and Noire to follow behind them, with three more changelings bringing up the rear.

Trixie took the chance to take a look around. The corridor itself was non-descript, having been dug out either out of the side of a hill or underground. More interesting were the ways the walls of the tunnel had been decorated. Somehow, the changelings had produced a luminescent material that they had slathered throughout the hive, with hues of red, blue and green that changed every so often. The sum of several hundred years if not thousands of years of changeling civilisation in the badlands was on display, with disparate pieces of art every few dozen hoofsteps. A vase was followed by a sculpture, then by a painting, by a bizarre piece of metalwork, then another painting. Trixie decided that if she were to ever return to the hive, it would be with a few of her father's remaining pieces. Wooden Chisel's memory deserved no less than for a few of his works to lie in rest at his birthplace.

After a short time, in which Trixie mentally counted the number of diverging paths that lead down other tunnels, easily hitting three digits, Atlas and Red Wing halted. There was a door on either side of where the two stood. The changeling turned around, assessing his companions briefly before he said, "This is where you will be staying while you are in the hive. Mares, on my left, Red Wing, to my right. You may leave your possessions here. Do you prefer a tour now, or would you like to rest up and wait until tomorrow? Keep in mind that Chrysalis is planning to sup with you tonight, so the tour will have to be brief."

Trixie traded looks with Iceheart and Noire. Noire took the lead and said, "We will stay here for now. When would you expect the meal to be at?"

Atlas suddenly let out a series of chirps. A few seconds later, one of the changelings behind Trixie chirped back. She nearly jumped, having just about forgotten about the other three changelings' presence. Atlas then said, "Supper will be in three hours, or seven p.m. There will be a clock in your room for you to keep track of time." Opening the door on his left side, he made pointed his hoof inside.

Trixie walked in, following Iceheart and Noire, bemused. Her own father had very occasionally broken out into chirping, but it had always been in his natural changeling form. Considering how rare it was that he dropped his disguise, Trixie had no idea for just how often a changeling might chirp instead of using language as Trixie was used to it.

As she entered the area Trixie and her two marefriends would be living in for deities above only knew how long, Trixie set the saddlebags that she had been wearing since the early morning upon leaving Dodge Junction. Given Atlas' mention of the time, it was about four p.m., so the four had to have been unconscious for a few hours following their being intercepted by the changeling squad in the badlands. It was good to finally be free of that weight. At last, Trixie took a look around the room. There were no windows, but the far wall provided a significant amount of light by its luminescent dust. A curtain rod was installed against the wall. It was clear that at night, they would have to pull the curtain shut to block out most of the light to be able to sleep.

Other than that, the room was fairly spartan, closely resembling those of the hotels Trixie had occasionally stayed in. Four beds were scattered around the room with a large table in between, and there was a small kitchenette and washroom. There were a couple of paintings hanging from the wall. It was clear the changelings did not get very many visitors, and so they emphasised function over form with the quarters.

Noire poked her head out of the washroom. "Well, the good news is we have running water in here. The better news is it's actually warm!"

"Is that standard in this age?" Iceheart asked. "That is, to have warm, running water?"

"In most places, yes. In some smaller villages it's less common," said Trixie.

"I've missed out on so much, then. It truly will be great to see more of Equestria with the two of you," Iceheart mused, walking to the far wall and observing how the luminescent light played off her crystal coat. "Already I have seen the badlands and part of a changeling hive, even if it was just the one chamber and several corridors so far."

Trixie stopped, not daring to move as a full-body shiver washed through her. She had perhaps known it in some way from that first minute she had woken up from the Windigo ice and Iceheart had revealed her decision to leave the Crystal Empire and accompany her and Noire, but it was only now that Trixie was fully internalising it. She had given Iceheart a new lease on life, and the other pony was looking more alive by the day.

Trixie truly felt touched. For so much of her life she felt as if she had been drifting, learning and entertaining, but never really being more than somepony that was there. Even the worst incident of Trixie's life, the Alicorn Amulet, was likely to be relegated to history as a footnote, a stepping stone for somepony else. And then, in the space of a month, she had monumentally affected the lives of not one but two others, and was beginning to claw back her own life.

Then somebody knocked on the door, and Trixie was broken out of her reverie.

"I've got it," Noire announced. Testament to her being a pegasus with a hybrid heritage, her body failed to glow even as she cast the telekinesis spell. The result was evident, however, as the door swung inwards.

"Good evening, mares," Red said as he walked inside, nodding his head at each of them in turn. "I hope the accommodations are to your liking? The beds might be a little hard, but it's better than outside at least. The temperatures can drop to near-freezing at night, and the wind sometimes kick up sand and dust into your face when you're trying to sleep. It's always a nuisance to wake up to dry lips. That, and occasionally there's tumbleweeds, those are always a pain to get out of your hair after one runs into you."

"You're rambling, Red," Noire said in a deadpan tone. "Or should it be Red Wing?"

Red winced. "I don't like using that. Just Red is fine."

"This is related to that tornado, isn't it?" Trixie asked, then instantly regretted it.

Red sighed, pacing over to the table, taking a brief glance at a painting, a portrait of an unknown changeling queen, before turning around. "Yes, yes it is. I grew up in Steeds. Have you ever heard of it?"

Iceheart didn't even bother to answer, given her lack of exposure to the demography of the Equestria of present. Noire shook her head. Trixie, however, had. "A small town, southwest of Los Pegasus, isn't it?"

"Yeah, right on the southern border, but far to the west of here. It's a tiny town, really, I'm surprised you've even heard of it."

"I've traveled extensively," Trixie said. "I've never been to Steeds, but I have been to Grassplow nearby."

Realisation dawned on Red's face. "That would explain it. Anyways, I grew up in Steeds. It's a nice little village, but it's too far away from Los Pegasus and too small to really have any dedicated weather service. Pegasi are expected to help with their weight, but only to a point. Nopony expects you to be break up tornados." Red looked longingly down at his flank, where his Cutie Mark was, a pair of dark red wings enveloping the globe. "I got my Cutie Mark when I broke up my first tornado by myself."

Noire nearly choked. "Seriously? It usually takes at least a half-dozen ponies to dissipate one, often with magical back-up!"

Red chuckled, and he said, "Well, I suppose that it being my special talent helps. At least, that's how I had always interpreted it, y'know? Like a pair of wings protecting the planet below from wild weather. When there were large enough tornados to result in significant property damage and potential loss of life, we always let the weather crew out of Los Pegasus stop it. But small tornados could always cause some damage, and when I was a colt, I decided I wanted to stop even them from happening, before another farmer lost his crops or another family lost their house. Then I grew up and I did it."

As he was talking, Red had begun to pace, walking back and forth, his wing occasionally flicking out agitated. Even if Trixie couldn't sense his emotions, it was clear this was building up to something bad. "Those were the days, y'know? I was practically pampered by the town. How could I not be, when I was preventing so much damage every year by myself?" He sighed, and his lone wing suddenly drooped. "Then I got cocky, and I chased after something too wild for me to even tame. I stopped that tornado, sure, saved a barn at least, but it cost me my other wing."

There was an intense spike of sadness from the red pegasus as he looked at the nub on his left side. "They treated me well even afterwards, I said that before, but lots of them avoided me, especially the other pegasi. I was effectively a cripple. I could use my four hooves, but I would never be as effective as an Earth pony." Red wrinkled his nose, buried emotions playing out across his face before he ended with a scowl. "I took my savings and left Steeds, never to return."

"Then you ended up in Dodge Junction?" Iceheart asked.

"Not at first. Dodge Junction might be almost directly east of Steeds, but there isn't much even for small villages in between. Instead, I wandered through Equestria for a few years, staying in places a few months at a time, working odd jobs. Los Pegasus, Cartisle, Derby, Coltchester, Celestial Springs, Mareborough, and so on. It was when I was moving around Equestria that I realised I had always gotten my Cutie Mark wrong." Red took a look at his Cutie Mark again. "It's not about protecting the land from wild weather. It's about exploring Equestria, neigh, the entire planet. I have to do it on my own four hooves, however. It's a shame that I can't do it aloft on two wings."

"Upon the wings of freedom," Trixie blurted out, before she hastened to explain. "Sorry, it was just something that sort of popped into my mind earlier, and stuck there."

"Upon the wings of freedom," Red mused, repeating Trixie's words. "Not bad, I like it. It sounds poetic, I guess. Anyways, I brought you three here, so can you keep a secret?"

Trixie raised an eyebrow, but it was Iceheart who ended up speaking again. "If it has the potential to cause harm to others, then no. Perhaps large amounts of property damage too. If revealing it would save you in the future, then in that case, we could not expect to-er, I mean, yes, yes we can," Iceheart coughed slightly upon seeing Trixie and Noire's expressions at her, both of them asking Seriously? Her blush was fairly clear against her purple coat.

Red snorted, amused by Iceheart tripping over her words. "Eventually, I ended up in Baltimare. I was only there for a few days, before I was supposedly involved in a crime and they decided to try to take me in." He snorted a second time. "The idiots didn't seem to realise that if the witness spotted me, I have not one but two very distinct features that are impossible to miss in broad daylight." It was then that Trixie realised that even with his left wing removed, the tiny nub that emerged from his barrel still could twitch, and only the lack of a wing kept it from kicking up a gust in the room.

"So what did they do after they took you in?" Noire asked. Being a part of the Royal Guard that was sometimes deployed as a de facto military police, she was trained in civilian arrest, though she had never had cause to actually do so outside of the occasional drunkard.

"I said they tried to. It wasn't my finest moment." Red let out a whinny, before cutting it short. "Sorry, I get frustrated about it still."

"That's alright. What were you about to say?"

"Two pony guards decided I was a pony of interest who had taken place in a crime before I had a red coat. They got a pair of hoofcuffs on me before I knocked both of them out with my back hooves. Again, it wasn't my finest moment," Red said. "All I could think of at the moment was that if they took me in, I'd be locked up and unable to move around. I yearned to be able to feel the thermals under my wings, but a close second was to be able to go anywhere my four hooves took me. So I attacked them, and fled Baltimare that same day. Yet another place I've never returned to." He looked over at his left side once more. "Of course, even if it weren't for the fact my mane, coat and tail are pretty much all the same colour, I'm still missing a wing. There's no way I could blend in anywhere, so I quickly made my way south to Dodge Junction. Along the way, I dropped half my name and went to simply 'Red' to reduce the chance I might be identified by name alone."

"Where having only one wing actually turned out to be an advantage, in a strange sort of way," Trixie said, finishing his tale.

"Yep. Might even be that one of the sheriffs realise I'm wanted, but the town exists in its own strange equilibrium, and they try not to disrupt it unless it's for something that happens in the town proper. Somepony who knocked out a few guards in a town halfway across the country isn't worth taking in when he contributes to keeping the town stable."

"You make it sound as if the town is one arrested pony or potential changeling away from blowing up," Iceheart said.

Red said, "It's not that bad. I think everybody, yes, everybody, not everypony, is more aware after the failed changeling invasion of our border status with the changeling hive, or at least the only one that's attacked Equestria in hundreds of years. We're still paranoid about if our neighbors are truly ponies or not, but there's a belief that staying friendly and open to them could prevent or mitigate the possibility of another invasion." He sighed, looking weary. "From the changelings I've spoken to, that's even true."

"You know, that reminds me of something," Trixie said, then halted. What she was about to ask would be a highly personal question. After a second's judgement, she decided that if it had been aired out in the open, then Red wasn't too worried about others knowing about it. "I heard a little bit of what Queen Chrysalis said when I was waking up earlier. She said pony stallions cannot sire a foal with a changeling, only the other way around. Were you looking to settle down in the hive?"

There was a brief spike of indignation from Red, before it dissipated into the wide ocean of his feelings, leaving a few ripples before it disappeared entirely. "Something like that," Red begrudgingly said. "When the Queen spoke about my mark, that is what she was referring to, my episode in Baltimare. Even living in Dodge Junction still doesn't guarantee me complete freedom, you know. I've been here, to this hive, twice before. Both times, I spoke with Queen Chrysalis. She values ponies like me, who are willing to come to the hive and be cordial to changelings. Sh-she, she, erm, sorry," For the first time since Trixie had met him, the other pony actually seemed to be truly embarrassed, more than when he had whinnied earlier, practically stuttering, "She's tried to set me up with a couple of her changelings too."

Trixie tried to keep a straight face, but after a few seconds, let out a giggle. Trixie's giggle descended into a full-blown laughter, her lungs practically possessed as she let out all the anxiety she had been holding in the last few days. To her gratefulness, everypony else, even Red, joined in, though not as enthusiastically as her. "Ah, sorry Red," Trixie apologised as she calmed down. "It's just, Noire and I haven't even met Queen Chrysalis before. We knew a bit of her reputation from what our fathers told us about her, but other than that all we know was that she invaded Canterlot and was repelled. Finding out something like that was just really unexpected."

Red grinned, having gotten his laugh in too. "Yeah, I still find myself a little unnerved by her, too. But that information, well, it's not the deal-breaker, but I suppose I'd love to have a foal or two in the future to call mine." He sighed, something they had all been doing a lot of in the conversation. "I suppose the mares I've chatted with knew this as well, but no matter. I like to think I'm friends with several of them, such as Atlas. I don't know if it's a cultural thing that I simply can't bridge, but almost none of them can appreciate the desire to explore and wander like I do. I could tolerate being here for a few years before Equestria law enforcement forgets about me, but not for the rest of my natural life."

"The changelings that do have most likely left, like my father," Trixie said. "I heard the Queen say that as well. She is always willing to welcome them back, permanently or for a mere visit, but I know my father never returned once he walked out of the hive. If you wait for one of the mares who left to come back, you might be waiting for a while. And if you leave with her, that won't do anything for what Chrysalis wants, which is emotion generated within and retained by the hive."

"I know, I know," Red said, grumbling. "I won't begrudge her that, at least. That's why I have a standing offer to come and live here full-time if I ever choose to, even if it's because Equestria law enforcement finally caught up with me or something. Ha, they'd have to be quick about it. Once I get out into the badlands, even one of the guides would be hard-pressed to catch me."

"While this is all interesting to hear," Iceheart spoke up, looking at her mane in the mirror, removing a few pieces of plant matter that had presumably gotten into it while they were asleep, "Why did you come over here? I doubt it was to talk about you, that was just the way this conversation ended up."

"Oh, right. Thanks, I got sidetracked," Red said, briefly coughing. "Queen Chrysalis said she intends for us to have supper with her tonight. Trixie, Noire, you probably realise this by now, but changelings can survive on a minimum amount of food. Despite that, there are a few other ponies who live in the hive here, and so there will be edible food tonight."

"Edible meaning what? We can live on grass if we have to," Noire said.

Red raised his eyebrows. "Well, the changelings can eat the sage and shrub grasses, but they mostly subsist on plankton and seaweed that grows in underground cavern pools, which they nurture with the luminescent lights. To a changeling it might be palatable, but it's too bitter for my liking. But, um, never mind that. The two of you might have changeling fathers, and wow that sounds weird still to say to ponies. But even still, Queen Chrysalis isn't going to be 'nice'. She's a ruler, and she's still the one who decided to invade Canterlot. She'll attempt to trip you up, and make you say stupid things that reduce your standing in front of you. You have to be careful with your words, but you also can't be too late in responding or else you'll appear slow-witted."

Trixie let out a soft 'hmmm' of contemplation. "I think I should be overall fine. I've had more than a few hecklers in my life that I've easily turned aside. Besides, we only have three hours until we meet her again, that's no time at all to prepare. Although, if Noire and I wanted to get knowledge from her, really important knowledge, how would you recommend we do it?"

Red tapped the floor with his hoof a few times. "Try not to make it seem too much like a request, or else she'll grasp onto it and demand a favour in return. If what you seek could benefit her changelings in some way, impress that on the Queen and she'll be more open to bargaining." He sighed, and said, "I'm sorry I can't help you too much, I might be good at negotiating for fee of passage through the badlands, but the Queen is on a separate level. It's tough, too, when she can sense your emotions."

"Trixie and I can do that as well," Noire confided. "Not as well as actual changelings can, but we have some experience to it. It'll just be like when you and I were young and tried our best to keep our emotions hidden from dad, right, Trix?"

Trixie scrunched her nose at that, forgotten memories coming to the forefront.

Red looked briefly surprised, but didn't feel shocked. It was clear that he had been expecting at least one of the three to be able to sense his emotions since they had first met in Dodge Junction, even if it was because one of them might be a changeling, instead of two ponies who happened to have changeling fathers. "Well, in any case, I'm going to go catch a quick nap. I don't know if you've checked by now, but the quarters here have running hot water. Say what you will about the changelings, but they know their creature comforts."

"Yes, we've seen as much," Trixie said, before her eyes drifted over the beds and she realised something, "Wait, you have four beds all to yourself?"

Red just smirked, amusement radiating off of him as he left their room.


Iceheart was somewhat detached from the going-ons of the conversation as talk bounced between Chrysalis, Trixie, Noire, Red, and the remaining two patrons at the table, a pegasus mare and a changeling stallion. Trixie, Noire, and Red were seated on one side, with Trixie closest to the Queen, while the changeling and pegasus sat opposite. Even though there was an empty space on that side, Iceheart had been seated on the end of the table, directly opposite Queen Chrysalis on the opposite end.

Part of her apathy was because much of the others' idle chatter was about going-ons of the present day, which Iceheart was still ignorant about. She had felt foolish when she had at last realised that nobody at the table ever called the Changelings' attack on Canterlot 'the invasion', instead preferring to refer to it as 'the wedding', after the royal wedding that had taken place that day. Or perhaps she had been astute to finally realise it, after less than an hour of everybody dancing around it? She had been groomed by Sombra to repel Windigos, not foreign dignitaries.

The other part was that Iceheart had decided to observe the actions of the remaining pair, who were obviously together. Iceheart could not detect emotions like more than half the beings in the room, but it was obvious the mare, a white-coated pegasus named Silver Star, was in an extremely good mood. Given the way Hercules, the changeling stallion, was fawning over the mare and occasionally rubbing her stomach, Iceheart took a stab and guessed she was pregnant.

She hated being in the dark like this. Trixie and Queen Chrysalis especially seemed to be engaged in the royal art of wordplay, and Iceheart could only decipher every fifth sentence they said. Iceheart felt that she was actually doing better than expected, but that only underscored just how far she had to go to keep up, if she even wanted to keep up. After a while, she would grow fatigued of listening in, and turn her attention to the interspecial couple. Iceheart wondered why they were there. Queen Chrysalis must have known of the new foal and brought the two in for something. To show to Trixie and Noire that even now, new hybrids were still being born? As a gesture of friendliness, maybe, or was there a more sinister motive?

Iceheart let all those thoughts stew in her mind as she nibbled at her food. The main dish was a stringy pasta, lathered in a buttery sauce that had a hint of lemon to it. For the Crystal pony, who had subsisted on bland foods for years, the sauce was rather rich, and she had to space it out with the other dishes, such as a cream of mushroom soup distilled from mushrooms grown in the cavern; grass boiled long enough to remove the bitterness, mixed together with sliced tomatos and chopped onions, with a mildly spicy vinaigrette dressing over top; and a mildly sweet dish of mostly liquid, with a few pellets of dough in the liquid. That last dish had a light brown gleam to it, and the doughballs tasted mildly like milk. Iceheart wondered how the changelings had gotten milk when the nearest community was Dodge Junction, or perhaps if they had cows here in the hive as well. 

Maybe the pregnant Silver Star's presence was because of her emotions. All changelings and changeling hybrids in the room would be able to feel the pregnant pegasus' positive emotions, acting as a buffer against any frayed tempers or social missteps. Iceheart liked that idea best of all, but she couldn't shake the feeling that the Queen might have been using Silver Star as a tool to weaken Trixie and Noire, while she herself was relatively unaffected.

Silver Star and Hercules were talking to each other, occasionally taking fond nips at one another, but it was clear there was only one conversation at this table worth listening to. Iceheart turned back to focus on Trixie and Queen Chrysalis.

"I am curious, Queen Chrysalis," Trixie said, having smoothly segued in from an earlier conversation praising the changeling chef who had prepared the meal, though Iceheart had missed all but the last of that topic, "If Silver Star is any indication, your hive will soon have a pony with a hybrid heritage, if you don't already have any living here. How many hybrids do you think there are out there?"

Queen Chrysalis stopped and looked as if she was thinking. Iceheart doubted it was over coming up with an estimate to Trixie's question. "Probably the low hundreds. My hive does not keep close track of those who leave and if they have children, so while I know of two other hybrids, I did not know of your existences until you came earlier today. There are seven hybrids in the hive currently, and with those other two, you would make eleven known living hybrids related to the hive. Then I would guess there are a similar number in each of the other hives."

"I see," Trixie said, before taking a sip of the liquid part of the syrupy doughball dish. "You know, my father always had a little bit of a difficult time in teaching me magic. Externally-shaped changeling magic and unicorn magic are fairly similar, but different in enough ways that I always had to adjust for his lessons. Do the hybrids living here do much of that? Training in unicorn magic, that is. For that matter, training in all three fields of magic."

Queen Chrysalis narrowed her green eyes, and Iceheart reckoned the changeling monarch could see where the conversation was going. Nevertheless, the Queen allowed herself to be led down that path. "Not every pony does. Pegasus magic is near useless for those who are born as unicorns and Earth ponies, outside of easier elemental manipulation and being able to read the weather better."

"That's a shame," Trixie mused, finishing off the last of her pasta dish. "Something I've been working hard on over the last month is self-levitation, and I had wondered if pegasus magic might give me a boost in that field, or if I could do something extra with it once airborne that I couldn't on the ground."

Chrysalis' eyes widened this time, visibly impressed. "Self-levitation? Even I don't know how to use it. I can only recall two of my children who ever did. One did it out of academic interest."

The two were silent for a few seconds, and Trixie fidgeted, seeming to be unsure whether to ask about the other changeling.

Fortunately for her and for Iceheart's curiosity, Hercules turned away from Silver Star's belly long enough to ask, "That was the wingless changeling, wasn't it, your Majesty?"

Iceheart tried to read Chrysalis' face this time, but got nothing out of it. "Yes. His name was Icarus. He had wings at one point, and flew many times in his youth. Outside of immortals, he went the furthest into the sky of any being I know."

"Even higher than dragons?" Noire asked, frowning.

"Yes, even higher. He was a proud one, Icarus was," Chrysalis said, and now she was glowing with pride. Her mood didn't last long, as she continued to recount the changeling's tale, "But later in life, he succumbed to a rare wing disease, one that caused his wings to shrivel up and required them to be amputated."

"Wait, he couldn't just transform it away?" Red asked, and all attention at the table turned to him. Ah, of course, Iceheart thought. Didn't he claim before that if he were a changeling, a lost wing would have meant nothing to him?

"That is usually the case," Hercules said, picking up the slack for the Queen. Even as he did, he hugged his pony partner. Iceheart supposed Silver Star, being a pegasus, was feeling a little anxious over a tale about an equine who lost his wings, even if the equine in question happened to be a changeling and not a pony. "There are, however, a few rare magical diseases that affect even our transformation abilities. Some disrupt our capacity altogether. Others, however, are stranger in that they only prevent some aspects of shapeshifting. Perhaps any shape you take will always be colour-blind, or maybe you'll always have freckles, no matter what species or form you change into."

"That is correct," Chrysalis said. "For a changeling, losing one's wings would be humiliating, but he still had his magic. No small number of changelings rarely fly, and it was not as if he could not still be useful as a farmer or an energy-gatherer. However, Icarus yearned to return to the sky. After a few years, he learned to levitate his body, and flew by his horn rather than his wings for the rest of his days." The queen shrugged nonchalantly. "He and the other changeling both wrote down how to do it. The technique involved is fairly novel, but requires a decent amount of time and effort to lose. Since any changeling could turn into a flying creature, no other changeling ever bothered to learn it."

"I would love to be able to read their writings so long as I am here," Trixie said, finally going for the jugular on one of her goals while not leaving Chrysalis too much of an opening.

"Ah, yes. Speaking of which, how long are you planning to stay here?"

"We aren't entirely certain of that yet," Noire spoke up. "When Trixie and I left her hometown, we decided to go travel around Equestria, with the Badlands Hive as one of our first destinations. Before we went, however, we went up to the Crystal Empire."

"They'll be paying me extra for each day we stay over," Red mumbled, though everypony else ignored his comment. Money was not a topic to be spoken of at this table.

Chrysalis snorted. It was the first time Iceheart had heard the Changeling Queen do something even remotely undignified, but Chrysalis' words justified the action. "You went to investigate the Crystal Heart, didn't you? When the Empire reappeared, of course I sent a few of my own children. It was a nice idea, but just that: an idea. It gave my agents a moderate ambient boost, but nothing that could sustain an entire hive."

"Perhaps," Noire allowed. "However, while exploring, we heard about a fort north of the Empire that was locked in stasis along with the city proper, where ponies who fought Windigos a thousand years past were stationed."

"Windigos?" Chrysalis asked, perking up and suddenly at attention. "And what did you-oh. Iceheart, was it? You were one of the soldiers there?"

Iceheart nodded. The sudden respect Chrysalis was showing her was not unexpected, going off what little she knew about the old animosity between Windigos and changelings. "I was more than a soldier, however. I was the lead commander on base."

"Truly?" Chrysalis scrutinised Iceheart even closer, giving Iceheart a heavy appraisal. Iceheart didn't mind too much. Outside of the Crystal Empire, where many tarred her name, she doubted there were many creatures alive that would devalue her experience with Windigos. "Well, I wish you had told us earlier. You would have been an honoured guest."

"I had considered it," Iceheart admitted, "But I decided that visiting the hive was more for Noire and Trixie to resolve their own issues."

Chrysalis nodded, "I see. At the very least, however, I will give you the same clearance as they have. Although..." The Queen trailed off, before narrowing her eyes again, "You're obviously no longer up there. What made you decide to leave?"

"I don't know if you've heard of Windigo Ice or not. It's the fossilised remains of Windigo bodies turned corporeal, becoming a substance that strongly resembles ice. It's capable of altering weather patterns in a localised zone around it, causing snowstorms and drastic temperature drops."

"My own mother indeed heard of it, though I was not born until after the last Windigo left," said Chrysalis, raising her hoof to her forehead. "No, let me guess how this goes. You had this Windigo ice somewhere outside your castle, you decided to stay as the commander so long as it was there, but then it was destroyed, and you felt you could finally leave."

"Wow. That was surprisingly accurate," Iceheart exclaimed. "How did you know?"

"You've missed out on a thousand years of culture, Iceheart," Trixie said, taking a sip from her water. "No offense, but anypony who's read even a moderate amount of fiction could have probably guessed that once you talked about the ice."

"Oh," said Iceheart. Well, that shot down her theory that there might have been a changeling spy that got the news back quicker to Chrysalis than the three mares who had taken a train south from the Crystal Empire to Dodge Junction.

"I am curious, however.  As I recall, destroying Windigo ice required the power of the Crystal Heart, which always caused the dome to fall while the Heart recharged. Yet I have not heard any reports of the dome falling. What am I missing? Was the ice perhaps so small that it did not require as much energy?" Chrysalis asked.

"Windigo ice degenerates naturally over time. I am not exactly well-studied on magic, but I believe that the magical half-life is one of the basic principles of long-term spells. In this block's case, however, it was the second-largest block I have ever seen in my entire life, and even several hundred years did little to it," Iceheart said. She struggled to keep her anticipation under control. The three mares had rehearsed for this moment, and it would not do to warn Chrysalis ahead of time by getting excited. "Of course, I did little about it. It is Trixie over there who deduced a spell to destroy the ice block without taking down the dome in the process, and she actually managed to cast it."

For the first time, Chrysalis was at last taken aback. "Oh, is that true, Trixie?" She asked the blue mare, sitting at her side.

"Yes, it is. It was more of a moment of inspiration than anything, but I had most of the groundwork from another spell that I was able to modify." Trixie paused, looking unsure of something, before she added, "It was the most intense magic I have ever cast in my life. I am glad that I am a hybrid, in many ways. In that moment, the extra magic was the only thing that allowed me to complete the spell, and I even had to borrow some from Noire to fully cast it. But it erased the entire block in the process, not just most of it."

"Curious and curiouser," said the Queen, looking thoughtful. No pony or changeling around the table dared interrupt the queen from her musing. Minutes passed, and Iceheart dared to eat the rest of her food before it cooled off. She had never thought to ask about the changeling palate, though Red had mentioned a little bit about it earlier. The food was good. Was the changeling chef who cooked it able to taste-test it in her natural form, or did she have to change into a pony to appreciate it?

At last, Chrysalis spoke again. "You've been wanting to know about what talents a hybrid has that a regular pony would not, correct?"

And there it was, out in the open. "Yes. I have some talent with illusions. I wonder if I inherited that from my father," Trixie said.

"Hmm. Unfortunately, I cannot help you there too much. It is not as if it was a topic of particular interest, outside of being able to use the magic of all three tribes," said Chrysalis. "But I am sure she would know everything all the hives have collected on hybrids."

Noire shuddered. "You mean her?"

"Yes, her. You would have to go to Colt Springs. She has mellowed out in her old age, but she is still as sly as ever. She likely remembers the Windigos, however, and would be pleased to hear even their remains are gone from this planet."

Iceheart found herself confused. Who was this 'her' they were talking about? The active conversationalists seemed to dance around the topic, dropping tantalising hints, but never outright saying who she was. She supposed this mysterious being was a changeling, an old one by the sounds of it, but nothing more than that.

Trixie sighed, and she said, "I suppose we will have to head west, then."

Noire, Trixie, and Chrysalis took that as the natural end of that topic, each choosing to finish the rest of their meal.

Conversation resumed as a changeling suddenly came in, carrying a tray with seven glasses. Six of the glasses had an identical pale gold liquid in them, while a seventh had milk in it. Ah, Iceheart thought, her suspicion confirmed as the milk was floated down to Silver Star. Chrysalis is being careful about the new foal even now.

"Cheers," Chrysalis said, raising her glass with her magic, "To Silver Star and Hercules and their foal-to-be's good health."

"Cheers," Everybody else said, clinking their glasses together before drinking.


Well-Known Member
The dawn of a new day found Trixie in the library, fortunately without an escort. The library was fairly voluminous, with a large ceiling dug out combined with some nifty architecture to keep moisture out of the room. The room was nearly circular, with just a slight elliptical curve to it, and Trixie had wandered around the inner sections of the bookshelves past the fiction and the history right into the magic section. It took her a while, however, as she made idle conversation with several changelings on the way there, many who wanted to know more about her travels and her father. There was even a grey-coated Earth pony mare, though Trixie did not know if she was truly a pony or merely a changeling getting some practice in with her pony form.

It was after having to parry an overenthusiastic changeling who Trixie was certain was more interested in Trixie specifically than her adventures or her father's life that she at last made it to the magic section. After a few more minutes of endeavor, she found a copy of Icarus' notes.

"The Wingless Changeling, huh," Trixie said as she held the book, binded in a red cover with gold printing. "Did he come up with the name himself, or did others give it to him? Oh well, let's see," She said aloud as she perused the book. Trixie was not too worried about talking to herself in the library, given the acoustics. Changelings were less bothered by background noise than ponies were, too.

Trixie found herself fascinated by Icarus' book, a combination of a journal, an autobiography, and a guide to his spells. The changeling had created a couple of novel spells in his day, such as a limited echolocation spell. Trixie skimmed over those. While a few of them may be useful in the future, she was more interested in his writing on self-levitation.

After finally getting past his section on how he lost his wings, and having to hold her tears, Icarus at last talked about developing his self-levitation spells. Trixie let out quiet 'ooh's and 'aah's as she marveled at his ingenuity, combining separate spells together to create a new one. Taking the book over to a table, she set it down, and let her mind wander.

There was a subtle difference between changeling and unicorn magic, as she had mentioned at the dinner the night before. One of Icarus' spells, a magnetism spell, had no unicorn equivalent that Trixie knew of. She wondered if there was in fact one that she just did not know of, or if the other unicorns who were capable of self-levitation had come up with alternate routes to creating their spells. High-level unicorns were greedy about spells they developed, usually hoarding them and only teaching them to families and apprentices, if that. One only  had to look at the newest princess and how she refused to share details of the spell that had triggered her ascension.

"On the other hand, maybe that is wise," Trixie mused aloud. "Perhaps if others cast it they would become alicorns too, and goodness knowns the Princesses don't want alicorns to be dime-a-dozen."

"What's that about alicorns?"

Trixie nearly jumped out of her seat, and almost slammed her book shut while she was at it. Looking up, she saw Red standing against the table across from her, and she took a quick breath to calm herself down. "Oh, it's just you."

"Ah, did I scare you? Sorry."

"That's alright. I was just looking at this book and got to thinking," said Trixie.

"About what?" Red asked, looking down at Trixie's book and failing to read the text from his upside-down view.

"About the direction my life has gone, sometimes, I suppose," Trixie said. "I feel as if life was unfair to me."

Red snorted, but kept his voice low, mindful of his location. "Unfair? Sorry, Trixie, but life is unfair to all of us. I-" He broke off, looking at his left wing, "Sometimes life is unfair, and you really can't do anything about it. All you can do is try to move on, and struggle against anybody or anything that tries to keep you down."

"I have," Trixie said. "It, it just feels as if my life has been some cosmic chewtoy at times."

Red sighed. "Do you want to talk about it? I heard about your father, and your mother, too. I suppose it's hard, wasn't it? You couldn't even tell anypony about your father's true identity, and the fact that who they killed was in fact your father, and not a changeling that took his identity."

Trixie was surprised. He understands me, she thought. Trixie didn't know why. Perhaps it was because she was already deep within a changeling hive, where almost every creature there could sense your emotions. Perhaps it was because given the secrets he already knew about her, revealing more of them wouldn't hurt as much. Or maybe she just felt a shared kinship with Red, each of them knowing both loss and the feeling of wanderlust, the need to keep moving, the excitement of never knowing where your four hooves would next take you. Trixie decided to tell him.

"Do you know what the colour of my magic is?" Trixie asked.

The pegasus stallion blinked. It was a weird motion, Trixie thought to herself, given his red eyes so easily blended into the rest of his red coat and mane. "Pink, isn't it?" He asked. "If you want to be fancier, maybe magenta or something?"

"Just pink. I've never needed to call it anything more than that," said Trixie. Though some of the more vain unicorns I've met have had some fancy colours to describe their aura, she silently added. "A unicorn's magical aura is fixed throughout her life. It never changes, even if she breaks her horn down to the root and it regrows completely."

"Hmm? Yeah, I guess that's true. I don't ever recall anypony I know having their colour change," Red said, speaking his words slowly, not certain where Trixie was getting at.

"My magic was green when I was younger."

Red's head jumped up from his slouched position, looking more at the table than Trixie, to face Trixie directly in the eyes. "What? But how?" Realisation dawned on him before Trixie even had a chance to answer. "It was because you're a hybrid, wasn't it?"

Trixie nodded. "Yes, at least, that's what we believe. My magic changed colours." And it wasn't even the last time it did that, but the less Trixie thought about the Alicorn Amulet, the better. She sighed. "If I had been living in Whinnychester, it would have been a fairly innocuous change. There are not too many unicorns there, and those who do wouldn't even realise the significance of such a change. Unfortunately, I wasn't in Whinnychester at the time. Instead, I was enrolled at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns in Canterlot."

Red's eyes were wide open now. While Trixie didn't expect him to be fully familiar with unicorn magic, he at least appeared to understand the ramifications. "What happened?"

"I was living with Noire's parents at the time, instead of at the school dorms. We lucked out, because the first time I cast magic after my aura changed, I was at their place." Trixie sighed wistfully, looking at the book. She wondered if she would have learned how to do this had she managed to stay for the full time at the School for Gifted Unicorns. "Maybe we were paranoid, but what happened is done now. I immediately dropped out and left Canterlot a few days later. Ever since then, most of what I've learned has been self-taught, with bits and pieces taught to me by other generous unicorns I met on the road."

"Would finding out your magical aura colour changed really lead to others finding out you were a hybrid?" Red asked.

"We don't really know. Like I said, maybe we were paranoid, but it was a case of better safe than sorry. I'm still a little sad, and bitter, however, that I never got to learn any more magic at the School from the professors, perhaps even from the princess herself." Instead, I ended up being used as a stepping stone, twice, for a pony who was trained directly by the princess and became one herself.

Trixie viciously repressed that line of thought. She was willing to admit she was jealous, but there was nothing that could be gained by dwelling on it.

"That wasn't it, was it?" Red asked, and Trixie looked back. "There's more to your tale than that still, right? Again, I heard your story back in the throne room yesterday. You lost your mother when you were young, your father was killed, and you lost two of your carts, one to a show gone wrong, and one to vandals. Huh, that does sound like a rough life." He frowned, tapping the table gently with a hoof. "But there's still something more to it that you haven't mentioned yet."

Wow, he's observant. Maybe his calling should have been as a detective instead of a guide, Trixie thought. She mused idly about his red eyes, indistinguishable in their shade of red from the rest of his body. A unicorn's magic was often the same colour as her eyes. Trixie had thought herself unusual to have green magic, right up until they turned to the same pink as the hue of her irises. There was no doubting what the colour and shade of Red's magical aura would be if he was a unicorn.

"You're right. There was something else," Trixie said. She closed her eyes. It was a weak defense mechanism, but somehow she felt safer reciting this with her eyes closed as opposed to looking ahead at Red. Either way, her ability to sense emotions wasn't something she could shut off, and it would be difficult to repress in something like this. She would know how he felt. "When I was travelling and performing shows, there was a mare. She was at the show that went wrong. Two...colts couldn't tell the difference between a story and a real life, when I embellished tales of myself fighting monsters. What kind of pony in real life outside of the princesses would be able to fend off an Ursa Major?"

"An Ursa Major?" Red said breathlessly. "Aren't they so tall that they reach the stars?"

"That's a myth," Trixie said, waving her hoof. A second later she scolded herself for being so careless, given she couldn't even see where the table was with her eyes closed. "Regardless, a real Ursa Major is so enormous that no normal pony could possibly hope to challenge it. Two colts somehow got it into their head to run off into the Everfree Forest and find an Ursa Major, and lure it into town and get me to fight it off. They didn't even succeed at that, thankfully. What they found was still the size of several houses stacked on top of one another, but you can still look an Ursa Minor in the eye."

"The Ursa was what destroyed your cart?"

"Yes, that's correct. All my props were gone, and it was my living space, so I had to live outdoors for a night until I returned home. I wasn't foolish enough to keep my life's savings in there, but it still took some time to get the paperwork processed to withdraw from my bank accounts again. But anyways, there was a mare there. I had just performed a show earlier, using up much of my magic, and I was in a panic, having just seen my home crushed in front of me. I retreated with the two idiots. But I still had a plan. I'm a hybrid, remember. It's more than just about us being able to sense emotions like regular changelings can, we can also harvest emotions."

"That would be very useful if you were doing plays with magic," Red observed. "Use magic, get the crowd excited, take some of their excitement to stay topped up on magic. Clever girl."

Were Trixie a pegasus, a griffin, or some other creature that was part-bird, she would have preened right there. As it was, she was mildly annoyed at being interrupted, but brushed it aside. "Yes. I planned to turn around and vanquish the Ursa Minor in one blow, expelling it from town and sending it back into the Everfree Forest. The entire town would have been so grateful to me, I could have feasted on their adulation for days." Feeling a slight tinge of disapproval from Red, Trixie added, "You might think it a little manipulative, but I felt like I was born for the stage. Doing little tricks to get them into a low vibe only to pull something out to get them roaring with approval was my sugar high." The disapproval disappeared, and Trixie felt relieved.

"And that didn't happen, by the sounds of it," Red continued for Trixie.

"Yes, that is correct. That mare stepped in, and stole my thunder. She managed to banish the Ursa Minor from town. I was caught flat-hoofed, panicked, and fled." Trixie sighed. "Word got out that I was a coward and a liar, omitting the fact that I was a stage magician and playwright who is supposed to tell stories and that I fought against the Ursa Minor, and my good name was mud after that. I didn't realise that until I attempted to perform again with my new cart, and after a few shows the cart was vandalised and ultimately wrecked. That really hurt me hard, but it hurt even more when I returned home a year later and realised it was the last thing my dad and I ever worked on together." Trixie had to bite her lips and tongue to keep from crying, and she squeezed her eyelids even more shut.

There was a strong, tangy feeling of sympathy from the other pony, and Trixie took what she could get. What emotional energy she had collected since her experiences on the northern ice flats wouldn't have been enough to fill up a magical wading pool. "You don't have to continue if you don't want to," Red said.

Trixie wanted to, oh how she desired it. But she felt she had gotten far enough with telling her life's story to yet another pony that she should take the last step. She opened her eyes, blinking out her tears. "No," Trixie said, keeping her voice steady, "I'll tell it."

"After my second cart was vandalised, like I said, I went to work on a farm. What I didn't mention before was that it was a rock farm."

Red choked. "How-how does that even work?" His ears were twitching in a frenzy. Trixie was unsure if it was because of surprise or restrained laughter.

"It was an Earth pony family. They turned over rocks at certain times of the day and in such a manner that they collected natural energy from the planet itself. It's how gems form underground. With some know-how, it's possible to speed up the process and get gems of a large size and more flawless cut. The family was reasonably well-off, and they paid good, but they didn't care to spend two bits on anything that seemed even slightly fancy." 

"I see," said the red stallion, nodding in enlightenment.

"Anyways, it paid well, but it was really boring work. I worked in Whinnychester, a wheat farming village, as I grew up after I left the School for Gifted Unicorns. I wasn't afraid of manual work, and I had come up with many mental exercises over the years to pass the more dull periods. But rock farming was something else entirely, and none of the ponies I worked with made decent conversation. Three of them were completely obsessed with rocks, one of them was always angry, and the other was the shiest pony I've ever met. That was dangerous. It let my mind wander, and all too soon I decided I wanted revenge on that mare."

Red narrowed his eyes, and both distrust and dread leaped to the surface. "What did you do?" He asked, as a touch of nervousness settled in as well.

Trixie brought a hoof up, biting on the side of it for a few seconds before she finally spoke. "With the money I had earned, I went to an artifacts shop, and found a rare magical artifact. A dark magical artifact," She emphasised.

There was a brief spike of alarm from Red, and an increasing sliver of dread, but he stayed silent, waiting for Trixie to continue. "It was called the Alicorn Amulet. It gives the wearer a boost in magical power and makes spells far easier to cast. At long last, all the spells I knew the theory for but could never perform with no teacher to help me, such as age spells or complex transmutation spells, they were no longer impossible. I just thought it, and I could shape the magic and cast them through my horn as easily as casting a basic levitation spell. The world was my oyster, and I used it to embarrass her in front of all her friends, before exiling her from town."

"That was going a little bit too far, don't you think?" Red asked, frowning.

Trixie retorted, "That's why it's called a dark magical artifact! I was hardly the pinnacle of rationality at the time! I'm sorry, that was uncalled for of me."

Red responded with a wave of his hoof, a commonly understood signal to let bygones be bygones.

"Anyways, I went mad with power, and soon had the town remade in my own image. Only a few days later, however, she returned, getting training from a zebra shaman who lived in the Everfree forest of all things. She turned me own flair for trickery against me, and claimed to have found an artifact even more powerful than the Alicorn Amulet. Thankfully, I was foolish, and I-um, did I mention that the only way you could remove the Alicorn Amulet was for the wearer to do it herself? I don't think I did, but that's one of its functions. I was foolish, thankfully, and decided to steal her artifact, a necklace, and switch it out with my amulet. I'm glad for that, because I shudder to think of what I might have done if I had kept the Amulet on any longer."

Trixie rubbed her hooves together, looking down at her book. "But even a few days was enough. Dark magic has a way of taking its toll on a user. I haven't touched another artifact since, or even thought about tinkering with dark magic, but even now, three and a half years later, I still wake up with nightmares in the night."

Red raised an imperceptible eyebrow. "Really? I had heard Princess Luna helps ponies with bad nightmares. I would expect she would make a pony suffering from nightmares caused by dark magic a high priority."

Trixie snorted. "Maybe, but I have my doubts."

"Oh? Why, who was that mare you attempted to take your revenge on."

Trixie sneered, and she said, "She was the newest Princess of this realm, in the two years before she ascended."

This time, Red's dominant emotion was shock, painted out across his entire face, from twitching ears to raised eyebrows to wide eyes to a mouth hanging open. "Wha-uh-uh-" He stuttered, letting out the occasional noise in between moments of awed silence.

"If you leave your mouth hanging open, you'll catch flies," Trixie teased him in an effort to break up the awkward tension resulting from her revelation.

Red shut his mouth, but it took him a while longer to get the rest of his body under control. At last, he spoke again. "You mean Pri-"

"Don't speak her name!" Trixie hissed. "Sorry, but I've tried hard not to even think about it."


Trixie nodded. "Yes, really. I know that sounds petulant, but please, try to look at it from my perspective. I've spent my entire life fascinated by magic, but had my time at school interrupted by something beyond my control. Even then, I struggled to teach myself magic. I sweated, bled, even pushed myself until I fainted from exhaustion sometimes. Later, I found a passion for the stage, which I worked hard at. Those two things were my life. For her, however? I imagine I was a roadblock, something that merited a couple of learning experiences for her on her way to becoming an alicorn Princess."

Red blinked, and Trixie could feel his concern for her. She was done, however. It wasn't anywhere near all of it, but she had expelled some of the toxic loathing she had built up in her venting. One day, she would have to find a more permanent solution, but for now, Trixie felt better already.

"That's a..." Red trailed off, and it was apparent he was trying to be delicate with his words. "That's a fatalistic way to take things. I'm sure it was just a really bad coincidence."

"I agree. I don't like thinking that it was some sort of 'destiny' like some of the upper-class ponies always like to talk about," Trixie said, her voice full of scorn. "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," Trixie said. She wished she could stop, but her tongue decided it needed to add one last scathing remark. "The same would go for the loss of your wing."

"Oh. Oh," said Red, and she could feel his exuberance sink like a three-wheel wagon in a large mud puddle. "Yeah, that would do it. I'd be angry at destiny too in that event."

"But I prefer it doesn't exist," Trixie said. "It would mean some of the bad things I did were me own fault, yes, but also that when I bounced back each time, it was all me. I learned magic, I reformed my reputation, and now I'm learning more magic again, this time more advanced than I could ever have dreamed as a filly." She spun her book around to show it to Red.

Red squinted, then gasped. "Is that the self-levitation spell they were talking about last night?"

"The one and same. It's not exactly something I can use, not unmodified at least. I would need to be able to adapt it a little, and turn it into something I could use...is something wrong, Red?" Trixie asked. Over the last few seconds, Red had suddenly started squirming. His emotions were in a flux, and it was too difficult to lock onto any one feeling.

"No, no, nothing's wrong. Sorry, Trixie, I thought I just saw a changeling I recognised walk by. Um, I gotta go, I'd like to talk to her. See you tonight, bye!" Red said in a hurried tone of voice, before hastily moving away from the table.

Trixie watched him go, baffled by what had just happened. All she had done was show him the spell. The self-levitation spell, created by Icarus, the Wingless Changeling.



Trixie, you idiot, she scolded herself. Why did you have to bring that up to him? Red had been right about one thing. Trixie wasn't the only one to have taken a few hard knocks in life, and for all the many knocks she had taken, Red had received one that could have been a knockout. Trixie had suffered, but she couldn't imagine a life without her magic. Red had been doomed to a life without the ability to use flight ever again, the trademark ability of the pegasus tribe. And here was Trixie, learning how to use magic to perform what was essentially flying, and she had been born a unicorn.

Her ears drooped, and her shoulders sagged. Trixie had grown, and she had honed a silver tongue. She could easily make friends with others, and had helped to turn the lives of not one but two other ponies around in only a few months. Yet sometimes, she still found herself wanting for tact.

Trixie shook her head. It wouldn't do to wallow in guilt. She had still come to the library with a purpose, and she was determined to read the rest of The Wingless Changeling.


"You are...Tricky, was it?"

"Trixie," she corrected, looking up from her notes. "Oh, hello. Who might you be?" She asked the changeling sitting down across from her.

"My name is Thelax, son of Aphid, son of Stern, though you may just call me Thelax," said the changeling.

Trixie blinked. Oh dear, please don't be one of those types. She had encountered in her lifetime three nobles who recited their family lines, and that was three too many times. She decided to grin and bear with it. "Hello Thelax, it is good to meet you," she greeted.

"It is nice to meet you as well, Trixie, daughter of Cicada," said Thelax. Trixie wondered if it would be rude to ask him to back up. It was easier for her to keep track of which changeling was which by the holes in their hooves rather than their faces, but Thelax' hooves were blocked from sight by the table. "I am curious. I heard from other changelings about what you did for a living. 'Performances', was it?"

Ah. It was one of those. Trixie would be more than glad to chat Thelax' ear off about that, especially if she could use it as an excuse to get away from reading for several minutes. "Yes, that is what I did for several years. What did you want to know about?"

Thelax clicked his tongue a few times, sounding apprehensive. "Is it fun to do your shows?"

Trixie chuckled, and relied on Thelax to sense the good humour behind it so he didn't think she was making fun of him. "Oh, it's many things, Thelax. Yes, it's fun. It's exhilarating. It's also incredibly scary. Every time I've done a show, I've always been chewing at my hoofs mere minutes before starting it, wondering if the audience will like it. But nearly every time, my show has gone off without a hitch, and it's always a glorious moment when the crowd applauds you after. When they exalt me with the wild stomping of their hooves, it always felt like I was on top of the world."

"Wow, that sounds incredible. Wait, you said nearly every time. What happened the other few times?"

She hoped he couldn't sense her sly use of words. "I've had the occasional show that was a disaster. I let one of them get to me really bad, enough that I stopped for a while. There were a few more that made me upset, but I didn't stop then. I always bounced back each time. Have you ever seen a show, out of curiosity?" Trixie asked.

The changeling nodded. "A few times. From what I've read of the books here, however, the plays here are amateurish. We learn to imitate ponies as perfectly as possible so we can take their places, but when we come home to the hive, we seem to lose any acting ability we had."

It was disconcerting to hear a changeling so freely talk about taking the place of a pony, but Trixie brushed it aside. She had known about that for a long time. Now was not the time to be getting caught up in that. "I see. Well, you know, I do two different types of shows. I do plays, where I tell stories, usually with both physical props and magical illusions, and then I do magic shows. In the case of the latter, the things I do are usually far greater than the average unicorn will ever strive to reach in her lifetime."

"I see," Thelax said. "It's unfortunate, I guess, that the biggest advantage a changeling has over any other species in performing a show is, well..." He trailed off.

Trixie sympathised with Thelax. A changeling existed to change, it was in the name of their very species. The main reason they tripped up when in disguise was because they didn't mimic their target well enough, if they were replacing an actual pony. The second biggest reason, however, was because a changeling had a single-minded focus to always be changing, always be adapting. It was why her father, and the few changeling 'uncles' she had (and occasional aunt, but since they never had any children her father was less likely to visit them, bringing Trixie and his wife with), always tended to art or mechanics of some sort. Be it under their hooves or by their magic, shaping and changing the form of a wooden block into a piece of art or metal trinkets into a machine always helped to alleviate the urge.

A changeling who was undercover, however, trying to gather energy for his hive, simply did not have the time or wherewithal to dedicate to a hobby or a job like that. There were few who could make a living on art, and not many changelings were mechanically inclined, given every changeling could use externally-shaped magic like a unicorn. As a result, changelings would soon have to ditch disguises and move onto the next pony when others got suspicious of their current form.

"Perhaps in a few years it will be doable," Trixie said. "I have been to the land of the zebras and of the deers before. I can't be fully confident, but I believe most of them would accept a changeling if he was to use his shapeshifting abilities in order to perform a play."

"Do you really think so?" Thelax asked. It was difficult to see, given his solid blue eyes, but Trixie could still tell that he was excited.

"Yes, I think so," she replied. She let a surge of certainty and enthusiasm bubble up to the surface, and watched as the changeling perked up, taking in her freely given emotion.

"Alright! Thanks, Miss Trixie," Thelax said, giving her a bow. Trixie blinked. That had been a quick turnaround from a changeling who had introduced himself by his two immediate forefathers. She smiled, however. Even if the end of her chat with Red had been a disaster, it was good to know she could still lift the spirits of others. "I'm going to go practice! I hope to be able to show you something before you leave!" Quickly, the changeling turned around to leave, practically hopping as he moved.


Thelax interrupted his pronking, turning around. "Is something the matter?"

Trixie stood their, looking ahead dumbly for a few seconds. It was a stupid thought. It was outrageous, absurd, impossible, ludicrous. It was a plausible thought. The last time Trixie had suffered a moment of inspiration, she had barreled straight ahead, and everything had come out the better for it. This time, however, Trixie wouldn't be just gambling with her own life in the event she used up all her magic. She would be betting another pony's life, too.

"Can I see your transformation?" Trixie blurted out. "Not just one time, a few times, please. It's been several years since I last saw my father. I was always fascinated by it."

The changeling raised his eyes, rightfully bewildered by her odd request. However, he quickly acquiesced, humouring the pony who had both given him a boost of emotion and hopefully would give him tips before he went. "Sure, Miss Trixie!" He said, as green fire lit his body up, and he turned into an Earth pony.

Trixie's eyes glittered with energy.


A changeling could Change.

With the exception of Icarus, who suffered from a disease, all changelings could regrow their forms with enough energy.


Four days passed. During that time, Trixie absorbed the writings of Icarus, until she felt she could learn no more from him. Further reading of The Wingless Changeling wouldn't help her. Trixie instead needed to practice, modify her spell, and practice some more, until through trial-and-error she could fully execute it. She occasionally entertained Thelax, and observed his transformations again and again, learning something new each time. However, it would never fill the free time she had now that she was done with Icarus.

Instead, Trixie sifted through some of the other books in the library, mostly on more magic that she could adapt to her own purposes, but also cracking a few books open on changeling culture. Part of it was for the day Trixie would meet that changeling at Colt Springs, perhaps not too far away now, but mostly, Trixie desired to understand her dead father better. Trixie still missed her mother, September Midsummer, but the mare had been dead for far longer. Trixie lived and breathed pony culture every day. It was high time she understand a little of the history of her father's species.

After their second day in the hive, Noire and Iceheart joined her, finding the cavernous library amazing. Trixie took the time to tutor Noire in a new spell, collecting moisture out of the air, finding it relevant given the main environmental hazard to the library in the cool, damp underground. Iceheart, meanwhile, spent the better part of the day lecturing to a few changelings who had wandered in about Crystal Pony lore, and giving them a first-hand account of the last days of the former Princess Amore and the reign of King Sombra, as well as her own adventures fighting Windigos. The changelings had been quite captivated, and they had feted the former commander far more than they did even Trixie and Noire, two daughters of changelings from their own hive.

On the fourth day, Trixie still went to the library, but she also finally accepted going on a tour of the hive, finding herself amazed at how extensive a network of tunnels and chambers the changelings had built for themselves in the badlands. She wasn't sure if Red's theory of the hive being built in the inside of the large hills was correct, or if it was actually underground. In either case, the changelings had still done a phenomenal job with their architecture.

It was that evening that Red had finally worked up the will to come back to the library, where Trixie was. He was far more brusque this time, cutting straight to the chase.

"You do recall that I said I was charging you an extra fee for every day extra we stayed in the Hive, right?"

Trixie looked up to face him. First, she had to get over her surprise that he had finally come back to speak with her. She decided not to give him any heck about his avoiding her the last few days. At least, that was what it had felt like to her. "Yes, I do remember. Don't worry too much, we have more than enough money. If you want, I can pay you out what we owe you up so fa-"

"That doesn't matter!" Red snapped back, flicking his wing against the table, creating an odd snapping sound. "I'd like to leave the hive soon, please."

She found herself baffled. Was he getting itchy hooves again? Trixie had to admit, she was feeling a little bit cramped already in the hive herself. She couldn't understand how some changelings were able to live here their entire life.

Wait. Trixie took a closer feel at Red's emotions, letting them simmer before she tasted them. There was nervousness in great quantities. However, instead of the fear that usually went along with trepidation in ponies, he was experiencing more embarrassed than anything else. Oh, this had to be good. If only his entire body wasn't already red, she might even have been able to elicit a visible blush out of him.

"What's happening?" Trixie asked.

"I-it's Queen Chrysalis," Red blurted out. "She found another changeling she's trying to set me up with, but this one, Manti, she's even more clingy than the last two! I didn't realise any mare, pony or changeling, could be that forward!"

Trixie didn't know whether to be amused at Red's suffering, or insulted at his backhoof comment about her gender. She chose to join in the laughter that percolated through the group, including the few changelings who were conversing with Iceheart to the side. It seemed this Manti had a reputation if even the changelings found Red's situation funny.

"It's not funny!" Red said indignant.

Trixie wiped a few tears away from her eyes, finally getting herself under control. "Oh, I'm sorry, heh, Red. In all honesty, haha, we were thinking about leaving tomorrow. It's been a learning experience here, but none of us are particularly fond of it. We're glad to all of you, thank you very much, but we just aren't used to living indoors like this," Trixie said, directing her words at the changelings Iceheart was entertaining.

There was a chorus of replies, generally assenting to Trixie's words.

Red sighed. "Ah, that's good. My pegasus instincts are still blaring at me, too. I can't fly worth two spits, but I still crave the open air as well. This is one of the largest chambers in the hive, and it still doesn't do a thing for me."

Trixie cringed at his words. Hopefully, if all went well, today was the last full day she would have to hear words of that ilk from the one-winged pegasi.


"The weather is predicted to be typical today, with no abnormally high wind or heat," said the changeling standing next to Queen Chrysalis, reciting a weather report. "There is a small chance of lightning travelling from the eastern sea. In the event that it occurs, it could potentially start a bush fire, so you should be aware of that."

"When he says small, he means tiny is more like it," Red said from next to the three mares. "Thunder can travel over a hundred thousand hoofsteps from its origin in the sky, but it truly is rare."

"That may be, but it still has happened," said Queen Chrysalis. "We lost a dozen changelings once to a freak thunderstorm. The only consolation we have is that it occurred during a time of peace. Had it happened during a war, we would likely have blamed their electrocution on an enemy spell. You would do wise, Red Wing, not to brush aside rare occurrences."

Red shifted under the Queen's gaze.

Oh, she used his full name. Trixie thought. Reminding him of his own incident is a little underhooved, but that's her prerogative. You know, I don't know how old Chrysalis is. She's not a thousand years old, but she's several hundred at least from what she's mentioned before. I suppose for her, 'rare' events are bound to happen when you live that long.

Chrysalis turned to Trixie and Noire. "Thank you for coming, you two. I have heard from my changelings that you were open with them, and gave freely of your emotions. You may feel free to return any time, so long as you go to Mirage's Gorge and wait for my children to pick you up." Then she turned to Iceheart. "The same goes for you, Iceheart. You may not be one of us, but my race long warred against the Windigos, who sought to incite and feed off the hatred of others, which is anathema to us. They may not be around any longer, but we will always value a pony who fought on the front-lines against them."

Iceheart took an awkward bow, not used to the praise from somebody who wasn't serving directly under her. "Thank  you, your Majesty."

"And for you Red Wing, I hope you come back again. Perhaps Manti wasn't the best choice, but I'm sure I can find some other changeling." This time the smile on Chrysalis' face was unmistakable for what it was: that of a predator, seeking to make her prey squirm in embarrassment.

"I-I'll try, Queen Ch-Chrysalis," Red stuttered. It was obvious to all he wanted to get out of there right that moment. "It likely won't be until another pony or changeling wishes to visit the hive."

It really is disappointing that he's all red. He would look cute blushing, Trixie thought, before shaking her head. Where did that thought come from?

It would have to wait, however, for later. Trixie had one last thing to say. "Queen Chrysalis, thank you for hosting us here," She said in her most heartfelt manner. "I loved my father, but given his situation, there were fundamental ways we would just never have been able to connect. I am glad that I was able to learn some things of his species, and bring home his story. If I ever come back, it will be with some of the woodwork that he created in his last days."

"The same sentiment goes for me," Noire added.

"If only all ponies were like you," Queen Chrysalis said. She sighed. "Some days, I wish I had never committed to that invasion."

Trixie was surprised. For the first time since she had been here, the Queen had finally called it an invasion, as opposed to merely 'the wedding'. She didn't let it faze her, however, as Trixie said what she was planning to say, "Perhaps, but what is done is done. I learned that from my own past. But, you know, Queen Chrysalis. Reconciliation isn't something changelings have to do alone." Trixie took in a deep breath to steady her nerves as she carried on. "I hope to make an impact in Equestrian society, somehow, someway. I don't know how. I already helped to destroy the Windigo ice in the north, so it's not for a lack of possible magical talent. I have the drive. I'll do something, something that will cause ponies to look up to me and ask for advice. And when I do, I'll push for a new understanding between ponies and changelings." 

She scanned the small crowd of changelings, but couldn't identify Thelax by his limb holes. "That said, I've already mentioned to one of your children that it may be easier to get a start with the deerfolk, who are very welcoming of other species, through an exchange of art and culture. It's something that needs to be worked hard at by both sides. But you can count on me. Within a few years, I'll accomplish something great, something that will spread my name wide. And you'll have a partner when you approach the ponies again."

There was a stunned silence by every pony and changeling in the room. Tense emotions hung in the background, and Trixie suddenly wasn't sure if this was the best idea.

Slowly, Chrysalis walked forward. The Changeling Queen of the Badlands Hive looked Trixie directly in the eye, green eyes meeting pink. Trixie wasn't sure why Chrysalis did that, when she could just as easily detect her emotions. The unicorn stood firm nevertheless.

"That was the sappiest thing I've ever heard from a pony, and I've heard many a ridiculous sentiment from them," Chrysalis pronounced.

The mood in the room deflated.

Then Chrysalis smiled again, a genuine smile. "But I appreciate it all the same. I hope you succeed, Trixie. I would be glad to work with you if you climb the ladder of your own society. Enough of that, however. Sweet dreams."

Trixie breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't worry too much about her rapidly beating heart, as Queen Chrysalis was readying a spell to be cast from her horn. As they had entered the hive, they were to leave by the same method. Even as hybrids, one who had fought Windigos, and one who seemed well-liked by the changelings, they still were not fully trusted. Within moments, Trixie felt her eyes drift close, and she drooped forward, falling into a deep sleep.


Compared to the last time Trixie had been put to sleep and then awoken, the blue-coated unicorn did it with far more grace this time.

"Who-wha-where am I?!" Trixie took a half jump up, only to fall back down, sprawled out on all four limbs. Her belly flop kicked up a small amount of dirt, and she coughed on the briefly dusty air.

"We're back in the Gorge," said a masculine voice.

Trixie craned her head over to look at the speaker. She confirmed it to be Red, matching it up with his deep, slightly scratchy voice. Slowly, she picked herself up, and saw that Iceheart was also up already, leaving just Noire still snoozing. Standing across from them were eight changelings. She was able to pick out Atlas. It had taken her a few days to really hone in and notice it, but Atlas had wisps of a blue proto-mane growing from the back of his head. It was potentially a sign of importance within the hive, but Trixie had never dared to ask.

"The fourth one is beginning to show signs of stirring," stated Atlas, and it was true. Noire was fidgeting slightly, and her limbs occasionally twitching, signs that she was no longer in a magically-induced deep sleep. She even occasionally mumbled a few nonsensical words out loud. "With that, we will be off." Atlas looked over, and gave Red a salute. "Until next we meet, Red Wing."

Red returned the salute. "Until next time."

The eight changelings turned around, and each took a single hoofstep forward before hopping into the air, with their buzzing wings carrying them forward. Trixie thought about how easily they could be tracked when leaving witnesses behind like this. Her theory was quickly shot down as the changelings disappeared behind a hill, staying low enough in the gorge that no pony could follow them and hope to find out where the hive was.

Good, though. The changelings were gone. Soon, she would confront Red.

Noire began to rouse herself, finally flipping over onto her back. The harsh rays of the sun appeared to do the trick, as she curled a wing over her eyes. "Gurgh, bright light, too early," She mumbled, before realising that she was sitting in dirt. Sitting up onto her haunches, Noire took a look around. "Oh, that's where we are," said the batpony.

Trixie snorted. At least Noire wasn't awake to watch Trixie leaving her sleep, or else she would be teasing her for days about that.

"In any event, let us be off," said Red.


Red frowned, turning to face Trixie. "Is there something you needed to do first?"

"Something like that," Trixie said. It's now or never. This is what I've been thinking and researching towards the last few days. "No doubt you're going to wonder where I'm going with this, but do you recall how I said I destroyed the Windigo ice in the north only a week ago?" Has it really been only a week? That sounds so weird, like something out of a play. 'Yeah, I destroyed a massive magic-resistant block left by the Windigos, that was just last week.

"Yeeeees," Red dragged his lone word out, indeed wondering where Trixie was going with it.

"Did you ever wonder just how I destroyed the ice? Take a guess, I won't think you stupid or anything."

The stallion frowned. "I assume maybe it was with fire, or perhaps a massive heat spell. Or maybe you bludgeoned it apart with pure force, bit by bit."

Trixie sighed. "If only it had been that simple. The honest truth is, I still don't know myself. Oh, I know generally what I did," She hastened to add as she felt him become annoyed. "What I did was nothing less than to make an illusion that was so powerful that it actually affected reality itself."

Red digested that for a few seconds. "You mean like a daydream or a nightmare or something?"

Trixie shook her head. She briefly took a glance at both Noire and Iceheart. They were both confused, but no doubt they were expecting this to lead to something big. "No, not like that at all. Think of, say, fire. When a pony creates an illusion of fire, it can look very realistic. It can crackle like fire, it can look like fire, it might even look so realistic that your body will be fooled into sweating by the feel of the heat of the fire on your coat. But it's still not real. What I did was like creating an illusion of fire so realistic that it actually crossed over into essentially conjuring real fire, capable of scorching and burning and leaving behind ash."

"Alright, I think I understand that. So you, what, you used an illusion on the block? Is there really a difference between using an illusion of a fire that creates an actual fire then, and just straight up summoning an actual fire?"

Trixie nodded. "It makes all the difference. The latter is easily doable. The former isn't supposed to be possible, because what it's effectively doing is telling the world, reality itself, 'this is the way things is', and reality accepts it. It's a way of making an illusion permanent. I cast the illusion of the Windigo ice disappearing, as if it were never there at all, and as far as the world was concerned, that was a fundamental truth of reality."

Red stumbled back, finally understanding. "I think I understand that, except I can't. If it's doable, think about what you could do with that! You could create real bits that can't be picked out by a counterfeiting spell. You could make yourself the most elaborate house you ever desired! You could produce water in this river valley! You can-"

"Regrow wings," Trixie said.

Pure shock. Trixie thought she had understood what shock was already, having felt it from many ponies over her two decades and change of life. Trixie had failed to understand just how deep it could go, up until now.

Noire was the first to speak. "Didn't you say before you couldn't do it on living things?"

"Yes," Trixie conceded, deciding to get that conception dispelled. "That was the case. Back when we were on tour, however, I went off on my own for a little bit, and found one of the caves where they were growing mushrooms. That changeling, Thelax...even as I taught him a few things, he taught me simply by virtue of his transformations. Changelings don't cast a mere illusion, they actually physically transform, creating mass where there was none before or occasionally reducing mass. I experimented with mushrooms, and it worked. That wasn't the only thing I-"

"What are the risks?" Red asked, sharply interrupting her.

"I-I'm sorry?"

"What. Are. The risks," Red repeated himself, with an added dash of frustration. "You don't strike me as the type to make something up about something like this, Trixie. Noire, you can sense deceit. Is she lying?"

"N-no," Noire said. "No, she isn't."

"Then all I want to know are the risks."

"If the spell fails, if, it could result in a magical backlash that might maim you. It could potentially kill you immediately. I might die, but that's only from running out of magic," Trixie said. She had already prepared the possible effects in her head. She just hadn't expected him to leap straight to them.

"Then let's do it," Red said, looking around the gorge. "Right here, right now."

"Wait, what? Don't you want to get back to Dodge Junction first? If there's a backlash, at least you can get medical attention there."

Red snorted. "Oh? So why did you decide to tell me about this, all the way out here, deep in the badlands?"

Trixie made to retort, only to stop short. Why had she done that? It had seemed rather hasty of her. She hadn't asked Iceheart to take them out on a tour, and only then reveal to her the possibility of using an illusion to destroy the ice. It was stupid of her.

"Maybe you sensed it in me or something, Trixie, I don't know how much you can truly feel emotions, or even all that changelings can do either, for that matter," Red continued. "You told me that you have two passions: the stage and magic. I'm like you. I have two things that give my life meaning: flight, and wandering. For the longest time, I thought wandering Equestria was enough of a life." Red sighed, and brushed his hoof through his mane. "I'm sorry girls, I don't want to sound like I'm pressuring you, but I need to fly. If I cannot, then one day, sooner rather than later, I'm going to decide I can't deal with this any longer."

"What a foolish sentiment," Iceheart scolded him. "Once you throw your life away, that is it. There are no takebacks."

"That's true," said Red. "I thought the same about the day I lost my wing. There was no taking that back. But now, Trixie, you claim you could give me my wing back, through something I only half-understand? Even a one percent chance is something I'm willing to take. Let me be clear. Even a one percent change of a restored wing against a fifty percent chance of death is something I'm willing to take, when the value of one so greatly outweighs the other in my head."

"Trixie? What do you think?" Iceheart asked, turning around to face the unicorn.

Trixie swallowed, feeling out of her depth at the way the conversation suddenly had turned. Red was thinking about suicide? She...I cannot allow that to happen. "The odds are significantly better than that. It's something I've never done before, but I never tried what I did with the ice before I actually succeeded, so perhaps fifty percent? And five percent chance of serious maiming or death?"

Red smirked. "Those are odds I would take any day."

"But why here?" Noire asked, desperately trying to steer the topic back around. "Even if Trixie fails, you'll still have medical attention, and she might fail not because it has no chance of working, but just because she hasn't got the experience, and she could do it on a second try!"

"That...that is true," Red conceded, and Noire felt optimistic. "Except, I feel like she'll do it on her first try."

"You feel?" Trixie asked, feeling strange. "You're just going to put your fate into my hooves like that, because you 'feel' I'll succeed?"

Red shrugged. "Call it gut instinct. The same instinct that lead me to disperse that first tornado so long ago that got me my Cutie Mark. The same instinct that warned me against tackling the last one, which I so foolishly went against and ignored, and lost my wing in the process. The same instinct that told me perhaps changelings could be reasoned with, even made friends with. The-the same instinct that told me these three mares who wanted to, to go to the hive, they could be trusted."

He was crying. Trixie found herself startled to realise she didn't want him to cry, because it made her sad too, in a way that no other crying pony except for her mother on her deathbed had ever made her feel. "Please," Red choked out in between sobs. "Just-just give it a chance. I have faith in you, Trixie."

Trixie could say no. She could wait until they were in town, and find a secluded area to do all this. But she had faith in herself, and Red had faith in her too.


Both Noire and Iceheart had varying degrees of disgust, but they each conceded to her decision. "If that is what you think, then I will accept that," Iceheart said. "You stuck your neck out for me before, and it worked. Let us hope this does as well."

They cleared out a small section of larger rocks, before using the same rocks to create a rough circle nearly two horse-spans in diameter. The geometry wasn't truly essential for the spell, but Trixie felt it would help nevertheless. In the event, the several minutes it took gave Trixie time to calm her nerves.

At last, the moment of truth was upon her, and Trixie found herself facing Red, who stood in the circle. She stood a hundred hoofsteps away from him, both Noire and Iceheart behind her, staying a decent distance apart in the event of the magical backlash Trixie had warned could occur.

The living wind howled.

With a moment's hesitation, Trixie cast.


Trixie had researched the anatomy of birds and pegasi, looking to gain deeper insight into wings. Wings were rather fascinating, with many of the bones resembling those in limbs of other beings, though they were more similar to the upper limbs of bipeds than limbs of quadrupeds such as ponies themselves. She could take Red's nub and plant the humerus bone from there, connecting a new tendon also from the shoulder until it reached the intersection of the new metacarpus, radius and ulna, and create new muscles and plumage over the reformed bone structure.

Later, Trixie had considered changing it just a simple concept: implanting the idea that 'Red has both wings', and rejecting the idea that he had ever lost a wing. Instead of regrowing a wing, she could simply make it that he had never lost a wing. Everypony alive who had ever met him would remember that Red had lost a wing, but the world itself would not. The world itself would believe that he had always had two wings, that that had never not been the case, and so Red have his left wing again.

Unfortunately, Trixie had struggled with that, as she quickly fell into painfully squaring the metaphysics with the metathaumics and ending up with nothing but a headache. Had she been able to stay at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, then perhaps the philosophy classes she would have eventually taken would have helped. Then again, had she stayed there, Trixie might never have developed her illusionary magic. She would have never met Iceheart, and she would never have met Red.

Instead, Trixie struck upon a novel, yet ingenious solution. Red still had one wing. The anatomy of a wing did not vary between sides, except for the left and the right being mirrored opposites. What if she was to go a slightly different route, and say, "Red has a wing on his right side. He also has a wing that is on his left side that is identical to his right wing, but mirrored." It was this solution Trixie ultimately decided on, after a few tests to ensure it was plausible. Thankfully, a test with glucose for a chirality switch proved negative, and so her theory was set.

Much like how a changeling could transform his body in green fire, Trixie would transform Red's body, giving him an extra wing.

But manipulating mushrooms appeared to be very different from working with a sapient being. Even in her trance-like state, Trixie could still feel the sweat dripping through her closed eyelids, the taste of salt on her tongue, and the heavy breathing of her body as it struggled to cope with the concentration she needed for this feat. Reality encompassed all of creation, from the planet they lived on, to the sun and the moon, to the stars beyond, and all the space they lived in between. Creation did not like to be pushed around by something that was but an ant to it -neigh, like a tiny fruit fly before the might of an alicorn princess. It had been tamed the last time with the power of the Crystal Heart, but this time it pushed back.

It held strong. It had a greater sense of identity once, but it had lost it. Things like gender and name were meaningless now. All it was focused on was pushing through this Idea.

'Red has two wings.'

'Red has two wings.'

'Red has two wings.'


Trixie woke up, sweating hard. The wind had subsided. Despite this, she felt a draft of cool air. Was her body suffering an illness or a delusion, that she was feeling cold in her last moments before heat death?

She blinked, and felt the magic around her body. No, that was just a cooling spell. Trixie smirked. It had been worth it teaching Noire how to use cooling spells.

She took a deep breath of air, and wiped the sweat out of her eyes. Opening them, she was instantly reminded of the near-ethereal state she had just been in.

"Your wing..." Trixie whispered.

Red flexed his left wing, looking at it, entranced. He still seemed incapable of believing what his eyes saw. Trixie couldn't blame him.

"He already tried them before you woke up," Noire spoke from beside Trixie. "They work, both of them. He flapped his wings, and he achieved lift-off. I chased up after him, and we bumped hooves. There's no way any illusion could simulate all that, in real-time, without direction from its unconscious caster." Noire hugged Trixie, unminding of the unicorn's sweat-drenched fur. "I don't know how, Trixie, but you did it again."

"Y-yeah..." Trixie trailed off. "I, I did it. I did it. Did you heard that?!" She yelled, looking up at the sky. "I did it! I really bucking did it!"

"My reluctance about having done it out here still stands, Trixie," Iceheart said from the other side of the blue-coated mare. The purple-coated Crystal pony smiled. "Nevertheless, I'm glad you succeeded. I can't speak for knowing what it's like to fly, but I think you've made one stallion very happy today."

"She's right, you know," Red suddenly said, at last breaking out of his reverie. "I-I still don't believe this is happening, but it seems to be true. I bit my tongue really hard and I didn't wake up, this is really true." The red-coated pegasus spat out a small dollop of blood from his mouth, showing just how hard he had bitten. "I don't think you need to pay the rest of your expedition fee anymore."

Trixie laughed at that. Then a random thought came to her, and she giggled again. "You know what I just realised, Red?"

Red was still on cloud nine, with a perpetual dopey grin plastered over his face. "You could realise hundreds of things, Trixie, and right now I would listen to all of them."

"Hehe, but no, no seriously, I just realised something. When you attacked those policeponies in Baltimare, they saw a pegasus who only had one wing." Trixie giggled again, unable to make it through her entire point without laughing out of a combination of nervousness and joy. "No pony has ever had a lost wing restored, so even if you strongly resemble this other red pegasus, you can't be him, you have both wings! You can call yourself Red Wing in the open again."

"Red Wings."

Trixie blinked, not quite sure what the difference was. "Huh?"

"My name, my true name, is Red Wings, as in two or more wings," Red, no, Red Wings said as he looked up towards the pale blue sky. "Oh Celestia, I haven't said that in years. Not since I lost my wing and dropped the plural, because a one-winged pegasus being called 'wings' never sounded right."

"Oh. Yeah, that makes sense," Trixie said.

"Never mind that, though. It's more than about the expedition fee," Red Wings said, before he suddenly dropped down on all four limbs in front of Trixie. "Trixie Lulamoon, I owe you so unfathomably much that I couldn't possibly hope to repay you. No, I don't think even money would be enough to feel I paid off my debt. I'd like to travel with you, and offer you my services wherever you go as your servant."


Trixie supposed she should at least have seen part of that coming. Red had little to truly keep him attached to Dodge Junction when it truly came down to it. Yes, he had friends here, but he had no family, and he was a self-admitted wanderer. If Iceheart, who had siblings living in the Empire and a second family at the fortress had decided to tag along with Trixie and Noire, Red, neigh, Red Wings would no doubt do the same.

Having Red Wings pledge himself as a servant was something else entirely together.

"We, we can talk about that later," Trixie said. Images of two idiotic colts flashed through her mind, and how she had made them slave to satisfy her whims. Her stomach roiled at that. "I don't want a servant, but a friend who'll travel with us, I'll accept that. Again, we, let's talk about that la, la-whoa!" Trixie hollered, nearly tripping over her hooves. "Sorry girls, Red Wings, I think I'm still a little out of order from casting that spell."

"That's alright. I can carry you as we go back," Red Wings said.

"Say what?" Trixie asked, as her cheeks brightened.

Noire looked back and forth between the two. "Hmm. It's doable. We don't exactly have the supplies to make it easy, and you can't fly too high, Red Wings. Remember, Dodge Junction doesn't know you have your wing restored. You should keep it that way. If they see you flying, Trixie's talent and magic will be exposed."

"You want to keep that secret?" Red asked, astonished. "Think of how much good she could do with other similarly crippled ponies!"

"Yes," Noire bit back. "After all, she derived this magic from observing a changeling's transformation."

Red recoiled at that. "Right...yeah, I guess that wouldn't be the smartest thing right now. Well, let's return to Dodge Junction first. I'll put a cloak on as we get closer to hide this," he said, flexing his left wing. "On second thought, we may have to tie it out. It's been so long since I've had to control muscle function on this wing, I can't guarantee it won't pop out."

"Good idea," Iceheart said. "While I would prefer less talking and more moving now, Trixie, Noire, there is one thing I am curious about. Where should we be heading next after we get to Dodge Junction?"

West, of course, Trixie thought to herself. She opened her mouth to say as much.

The living wind howled.

"W-w-north, north," Trixie said. Where did that come from? "I don't know why, but suddenly I felt as if something important is north."

"How...odd. I feel the same all of a sudden, as if something is drawing me up there too. Not perfectly north, perhaps, but in that direction. You two feel it too?" Iceheart asked, directing the question at Noire and Red Wings.

"This is freaking me out," Noire said, answering Iceheart's question at the same time.

"Something is drawing us north, yes," Trixie restated. "I had something like this happen to me before," She said, gulping. "But that was different. I could feel the taint even on the call of the Amulet. This is something different. This is...not so much passive, but neutral? Yes, neutral, maybe even positive." She looked around at the other three. "And if it isn't, I have you three together to help me, right, everypony?"

Nothing made Trixie happier than to get three nods back. So this was what it was like to have multiple good friends, each who would be willing to walk into the unknown with you to provide security in numbers.

"In that case, let's go back to Dodge Junction."

Trixie grumbled a little bit, but she finally assented to riding Red Wings. The embarrassing part was how tight she had to hug onto him, given the lack of a saddle or any other mechanism to keep her secured to his back. Thankfully, the stallion had the good sense not to do any tricky maneuvers in the air so soon after getting his lost wing restored. She enjoyed the warm breeze washing through her fur, wondering if this was what it would be like when at last she deciphered the secrets of self-levitation.

Slowly, however, joy turned to boredom, as she had little to contribute to the march back, and everypony else kept chatter to a minimum. Perhaps...yes, there was the other spell that Trixie had figured out. That was worth using.

Trixie had been weak, so very, very weak. Queen Chrysalis had not even been trying, and she had known all along what Trixie was trying to get, only giving it to her because the Queen had been so generous in the first place. Even with her love of magic, Trixie grew bored of reading easily. She still had her moments where she found herself wanting for tact. She was still arrogant, selfish, and greedy. Had she even really cured Red Wings for his sake, or had she done it to test herself, with the useful bonus of nabbing a loyal pony?

Those thoughts clouded her mind, and so Trixie cast.


Well-Known Member
Author Notes for the last chapter

Oh look, here's the author going "Blahblahblah" again.

This ended up a long chapter much like the last chapter of Stasis. Fortunately, since the first two chapters of this arc were a combined 7k words shorter than Stasis, that made this one easier to write. I had to nip one subplot that almost formed in this chapter (Trixie deciding to put on a play in front of the changeling hive), because that would have gotten the word count out of hand. I could have split this into two or even three chapters, but because I'm stupid and stubborn I keep aiming for exactly three chapters per arc.

Not to spark drama in the comments section (oh who am I kidding, if this chapter gets 3 comments I'd be stoked), but Trixie's recollection of the past is certainly going to be biased in her favour, so keep that in mind.

The careful reader may have noted that the text has been very careful to stay away from directly referencing Twilight Sparkle since the first chapter. This chapter has a few moments that get very close, but not by name. That's a deliberate theme to this story. This story is very much not about the Mane 6 at all.

Given the naming pattern of the prior two arcs, I wonder how many of you actually spotted the plural form in the chapter title and went, 'Hey wait a minute, Red Wings? Wha?!' Well, I already did it with Noire, though obviously the pattern hadn't been established yet.

Red Wings was a difficult character to write at times throughout this chapter, as I attempt to transition from his rough characterisation in the first chapter of his arc, to his more open personality in the second chapter, to the transformation he goes throughout in this chapter. I may tinker a little with the earlier segments of the final chapter of the arc to make his character arc a bit smoother. I had a little bit of difficulty with the ending, as well. Originally, he sounded demanding of Trixie, guilting her into casting her spell. He still does, but I worked on making him less manipulative and more desperate. I will still likely change this a bit further, because I do not want to give the impression of him meaning mean or manipulative. 

The next arc is Eldest. Just like how the New Moon arc wasn't a Twilight homage, this one won't be an Eragon homage.

"Brother, is that you? You have grown so...since the last time I left town, intending to return home that same day."

With that, I will be creating a new topic for future chapters of this story. Phantasmare is already clocking in at 100k words, and this is causing a lot of lag when loading this topic.