PART TWO - OMNIPOTENCE

The Great and Powerful Trixie had never before felt so utterly, supremely triumphant.

Leaving her parents, three sisters and four brothers behind to pursue her passion for magic, taking the stage for the very first time, mastering Clopperfield's Flying Earth Pony trick – nothing compared to towering over the Unicorn who had so thoroughly outperformed her, showing her up with an even grander feat of beast taming, turning her own friends and neighbours against her, and seeing the helpless, panic-edged awe in her eyes.

Trixie could sense it: Twilight Sparkle knew she was beaten. How sweet it was.

The enthralled throng crowded closer, closing off all avenues of escape, and Trixie stepped forward.

"Trixie is going to enjoy hearing you stomping applause with the rest of her new audience," she gloated, and ignited her horn as she channeled magic through the Regalia.

Waves of light streamed off of Trixie's hide, and her eyes began to glow. The divine aura surrounding her intensified; the assembled Ponies knelt reverently, the Ursa Major's affectionate sigh stirred Trixie's mercurial mane and tail, and the baby Dragon sitting on Twilight Sparkle's back dropped off and sat on the ground in an enraptured daze.

The purple Unicorn backed away before Trixie's radiance, but she only made it two paces or so before bumping into a wall of genuflecting Ponies.

"Don't fight it," Trixie purred. "Surrender to Trixie."

"N-no…!" Twilight Sparkle gritted her teeth and forced herself to look away, but a pair of pale pink hooves suddenly gripped either side of her face from behind.

"Silly filly!" said Pinkie Pie cheerfully, jerking Twilight's head back into facing the resplendent creature before her. "Trixie is that way!"

Tears streamed down Twilight Sparkle's cheeks as the unrestrained glory of the Regalia washed over her. Her horn glowed, which elicited a chuckle from Trixie.

"You think you can overcome the astounding majesty of The Great and Powerful Trixie with your feeble, small-town magic? Not this time, my arrogant little–"

Twilight Sparkle and the pink Earth Pony straddling her back vanished in a burst of white-hot magic.

Despite all the tricks, illusions and spells Trixie knew, mastery of the infamous "Wink Out" had always eluded her. The realization that even with the power of a Goddess she had still just been upstaged robbed her victory of no small portion of its savour.

Trixie's features twisted into a mask of outraged fury. "Find them!" she bellowed at the congregation surrounding her. "FIND THEM NOW!" She stomped an orichalcum-shod hoof. The assembled Ponies galloped off in all directions.

Trixie turned to face the remainder of Twilight's friends. "And you four – in the meantime Trixie wants you to find two other Ponies…"

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie both tumbled out of a white starburst of magic as if kicked from a speeding coach. Singe marks speckled their hides, and both were smoking slightly.

Pinkie Pie recovered first, gathering up her frizzy tail and blowing out the glowing ember at its tip.

"Wheee!" she squealed, galloping in place. "That was fun! We should go back and let Trixie have a turn!"

Twilight staggered back onto her hooves and looked around. Pinkie's extra weight had thrown her spell off course; she'd tried to get to her library, but instead they'd ended up in the field behind the schoolhouse.

"P-Pinkie…" Twilight said, still out of breath from casting the spell, "Trixie's done s-something to the townsponies, to our friends…and to you. You're not thinking clearly."

"Aww, that's crazy. I feel great!" Pinkie replied. "You just need to give Trixie a chance – like I did with Zecora!" Pinkie's glassy stare made her unsettlingly-wide smile all the more troubling.

"That's not the same thing!" Twilight insisted. "You were judging Zecora before you got to know her!"

"But now I know Trixie, and I think she's super-duper fantastic!"

Twilight sighed dejectedly. "I'm sorry, Pinkie. I'll find some way to help you all – I promise." She turned and galloped away, heading for the Library. The confused pink Earth Pony shrank in the distance behind her.

…And then popped out in front of her from behind a hedgerow. "…Help us what?"

Twilight yelped in shock, and took off at a still-harder gallop. Pinkie followed with a relaxed, bouncing gait.

Despite taking a winding, roundabout route to the Library, Twilight found the pink Earth Pony waiting for her around every corner and behind every object large enough to conceal her – and behind some much smaller than that. It was no use; Pinkie's logic-shattering pursuit was inescapable. Eventually, only a few paces from the Library's front door, Twilight fell to her knees in exhaustion.

"I don't get it," said Pinkie, staring down at her panting Unicorn friend. "You told me I had to work on the party in here." Pinkie pressed a front hoof to her chest. "Well, Trixie makes me feel like there's a whole bunch of parties in here. Don't you want me to be happy?" Her sky-blue eyes seemed to expand, gleaming with the threat of incipient tears, and her lower lip quivered.

Twilight grimaced as if physically struck by Pinkie's words. Days of gentle, supportive talks had only barely held off the Earth Pony's depression, but now she had recovered the happiness she'd lost and more – at the cost of her free will. What will happen to her if I undo Trixie's spell? The thought brought tears to Twilight's eyes. A brute-force magical solution was no longer an option.

"Okay, Pinkie," she said softly, "you win. Let's go see Trixie."

Pinkie's deafening cheer and ribcage-compressing hug covered and drowned out Twilight's small, heartbroken sob.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

The Mayor of Ponyville trotted up to the lectern at the side of the auditorium's wide stage and cleared her throat. The large audience of townsponies quieted their chatter and looked on expectantly.

"Fillies and gentlecolts," said the Mayor, "it is with great pleasure and a deep sense of honour that I am able to announce to you all that effective immediately, I am turning over the office of Mayor to a Pony eminently more suited to the position: The Great and Powerful Trixie!"

Taking her cue, Trixie unleashed a pyrotechnic display and uncloaked herself, giving the impression that she had Winked In on the stage's upper level. She spread her gossamer wings, letting her puissant aura shine through them. The wide-eyed crowd cheered, whistled and stomped applause with wild abandon.

"Trixie accepts your offer," she said without a trace of humility. "It is, of course, well-deserved!"

The assembled Ponies responded with more overjoyed applause.

"As your new ruler," Trixie continued once the stomping died down somewhat, "Trixie will grace you all with regular performances of her incredible magical skills. To make room for this in Trixie's busy schedule, the old Mayor will act as Trixie's deputy to handle all the boring Mayor-ish paperwork and such." Trixie looked down at the older Earth Pony. "Isn't that right?"

"Oh, I'd be delighted to!" gushed the Ex-Mayor.

"Obviously." Trixie turned back to the crowd. "And now, before Trixie's inaugural show, it's time for…the opening act!"

Just as Trixie ignited her horn to set the proceedings in motion, the doors at the back of the auditorium swung open to reveal an excited pink Earth Pony and a morose, teary-eyed purple Unicorn.

"Well, well, well…!" sneered Trixie. "Come crawling back, have you? Come closer, then – come bask in Trixie's awesome glory!"

Twilight wordlessly plodded forward like a Pony condemned. She stopped a few paces from the stage and cast her gaze up at Trixie's glowing form.

Trixie grinned triumphantly and released the Regalia's full power once again. As her divine light bathed the auditorium everypony fell on bended knee…

Everypony that is, except for Twilight.

Trixie frowned. "Kneel before Trixie!" she commanded. The masses obeyed, bowing lower and muttering worshipful praise. But Twilight stayed on her hooves, squinting up at Trixie's radiance with narrowed but undaunted eyes and whispering:

"…No."

Trixie flapped her wings and swooped down off of the balcony to alight directly in front of the Unicorn.

"KNEEL!" she boomed, her voice cracking slightly from the effort. Her quicksilver mane and tail swirled around her.

"NO!" Twilight shouted back.

Trixie stared in disbelief. It was impossible – that streak-maned mare had some magical skill, yes, but the Regalia were magical relics the likes of which she'd never seen. How could this small-town Unicorn be so…unfazed by their power?

Trixie straightened, fighting down any outward sign of her disquiet. "So be it, then!" she barked. "If you will not admit Trixie's obvious superiority, then you are a fraud and a traitor, and should be dealt with as such. Have her locked up!"

"At once, O Mighty Trixie!" chirped the Ex-Mayor, whipping a front hoof upward in a salute.

Twilight's jaw dropped. "WHAT? Trixie, enough's enough! I don't know what you've done to everypony, but this isn't a game. They don't want this!"

"Oh?" said Trixie, raising an eyebrow. "All of you – who is the best Pony?"

The unanimous cry of "TRIXIE!" shook the rafters.

"And how would you feel if Trixie left you all alone?"

A chorus of gasps, wails and begging denials rose up from the crowd. Some of the younger Ponies burst into tears.

Trixie chuckled a self-satisfied chuckle. "There you have it – straight from the Pony's mouth."

Twilight's expression darkened, but she stayed silent.

She remained silent as a pair of stallions dragged in an iron cage and shoved her inside, and as the cage was hoisted up by a chain to hang to the side of the stage.

"Well," Trixie huffed. "Now that that's over with, where were we? Ahh, yes – the opening act!"

Trixie ignited her horn, and magicked a pair of wooden marionette crossbars out from behind the curtains at the back of the stage. A moment later a pair of Unicorn colts came into view, tied to the crossbars with gleaming strings.

The gangly mustard-yellow colt had been dressed up as a pierrot, and the chubby blue-green colt as a harlequin. Both had clownish makeup plastered on their anxious faces.

Trixie focused on the pair and the crossbars puppeteered them into a jerking dance.

"Take a good look, my assorted admirers," Trixie sneered, "at what happens to those who try to make a fool out of The Great and Powerful Trixie!"

The audience laughed and jeered as the strings pulled the colts through a series of midair capering antics.

"W-we're s-sorry, Trixie," stammered the Snips the harlequin.

"Yeah…!" agreed Snails the pierrot. "We totally didn't know you made up that story about the Ursa, eh?"

Trixie gritted her teeth and felt a faint blush spread across her nose and cheeks. "Hmph! It seems these two still haven't learned their lesson!"

Trixie put a hoof to her lips and let out a shrill whistle. A deep, rumbling growl answered back, and the enormous shape of the Ursa Major came into view through the Auditorium's open upper archways. It reached a wagon-sized paw in through one of the windows and reached for Snips and Snails. The colts struggled to get away, their legs galloping futilely in the air.

"How made-up does it seem now?" Trixie asked snidely.

The assembled Ponies pointed and laughed as Trixie dangled the pair just out of reach of the Ursa's wicked claws. The pierrot and the harlequin squealed in terror. Their wide eyes filled with tears. The crowd kept laughing.

"Trixie, stop this!" shouted Twilight. "They're going to get hurt!"

Down in the audience, Pinkie Pie's gaze darted from the panicked, weeping colts, to the crowd, to The Great and Powerful Trixie, to Twilight's cage, and back again. She frowned. A glimmer of will shone in her pale blue eyes. "That's not funny…" she whispered.

Next to her, Rarity nodded in agreement. "You're so right, dah-ling," she whispered. "Those costumes are imported satin – it would be simply tragic if they were ruined."

"Yeah…" Pinkie Pie shook her head. "What? No! I mean it's not funny to laugh at Ponies who are scared! Laughing is supposed to make your scaredy-ness go away!"

Rarity pondered this for a moment, but then her glassy eyes seemed to grow still emptier. "I'm sure The Great and Powerful Trixie has a good reason," she muttered in a monotone.

Trixie strode over to Pinkie and Rarity. "Is there something you two would like to share with everypony?" she asked. "Trixie is curious what could be more interesting than her carefully-arranged object lesson!"

Rarity mumbled a nervous apology and turned away, but Pinkie met Trixie's gaze.

"Y-you…You sh-shouldn't…" Pinkie's ears drooped. Her knees were shaking. "Youshouldn'tbemean!" she blurted. The effort of forcing out those words left her brow shining with sweat, but the moment they left her lips it felt as though a great weight fell off her shoulders.

"Mean?" replied Trixie. "Don't make Trixie laugh! This is no more than those little idiots deserve!" Trixie looked up at the terrified colts with a satisfied grin, but then a sudden pain jabbed her belly. She hopped backward and peered at the ground, looking for the Pony responsible, but nopony was there.

Odd… Trixie shrugged. "It seems our little clowns are too quick for Trixie's mighty Ursa Major," she said to the crowd. "Should we let her use her other paw as well?"

As the crowd cheered and stomped applause another, stronger pain stabbed Trixie's innards. All at once, she realized what the sensation was: hunger. She was positively starving.

She cleared her throat. "Maybe next time," she told her audience. She magicked the colts down to the ground. They huddled in a hug and wept on each other's shoulders. "For now, The Great and Powerful Trixie desires a feast. There will be no magic show until Trixie is fed!"

Trixie watched the Pony masses crowd about in disarray until a Stetson-wearing Earth Pony spoke up:

"Don't you worry none, Trixie! Sweet Apple Acres has got Ya covered! We'll fix up a banquet worthy of a Princess!" The crowd cheered.

"Well, be quick about it!" said Trixie. "Trixie hates to be kept waiting."

Twilight Sparkle looked down at Trixie from her spot in the suspended cage. Her eyes passed over the majestic blue Unicorn's twitching belly, the beads of sweat on her brow, and the tension in her jaw. Twilight tapped a front hoof on her chin pensively.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

A short time later the Fabulous but Famished Trixie sat at the head of a lengthy table in a grassy clearing at Sweet Apple Acres. Setting sunlight peeked through the farm's orchards and bathed the scene in golden warmth. Several dozen admirers and hangers-on milled about nearby, basking in Trixie's presence. Twilight Sparkle's cage sat behind and to the side of Trixie, under the shade of one of the larger apple trees.

One by one, the Ponyville members of the Apple family trotted out from the farmhouse and set out a sumptuous spread. Oven-fresh apple pies, turnovers, brioche, fritters, crisps and more spread a mouth-wateringly sweet scent through the air. Once the service was complete Applejack, Big Macintosh, little Apple Bloom and old Granny Smith stood back, puffed with pride.

"Dinner is served, Trixie," said Applejack proudly, and doffed her Stetson. "We hope it's to Yer likin.'"

As Trixie inhaled the meal's intoxicating aroma, the pain in her belly intensified. It took a significant effort to keep from drooling on the tablecloth. "It looks…acceptable," she said loftily.

"I'm glad!" Applejack beamed. "I can truly say that this here's some of the finest bakin' that we've ever done – mah Granny's outdone herself! Why, it's even better than the stuff I brought to the Grand Gallopin' Gala!"

Trixie paused with her lips mere inches from a particularly plump and pomaceous pie and muttered:

"What."

"The Grand Gallopin' Gala! It's this big to-do over in Canterlot–"

"Trixie knows what the Grand Galloping Gala is," said Trixie, her voice clipped and harsh. She was in shock; this country bumpkin Mudhoof had gone to a Gala? Inconceivable! She couldn't help but voice the question now gnawing at her: "How did you get invited to a Gala?"

"Princess Celestia gave her a ticket," Twilight piped up. "Since I'm Celestia's personal student, She gave them to all of my friends."

Trixie turned to face Twilight's cage. The purple Unicorn's face was calm and guileless, but Trixie knew a con when she heard one. Her finely-honed showpony instincts had detected the subtle notes of smugness and haughtiness in Twilight's tone. Twilight was obviously goading her; trying to shock her with the revelation and make her lose control of the situation. Again. It won't work! she silently promised.

Turning back to the gorgeous banquet, Trixie off-hoofedly remarked: "How wonderful for you! Perhaps someday you'll find friends that don't need to be bribed to stand you!"

Twilight's jaw dropped. The fawning Ponies surrounding the table chuckled and nudged one another.

"Now just an apple-pickin' minute…!" said Applejack. "That ain't how it is at all!"

"Oh?" asked Trixie. "Then just how is it? Why don't you tell Trixie – tell us all – how your dear Twilight Sparkle measures up against the inestimable magnificence that is Trixie!" Trixie's horn glowed, and she once again called forth the Regalia's full radiance. The herd of admirers knelt in the lush grass.

Applejack caught Trixie's display head-on; she slid back slightly, her hooves digging divots into the rich soil. She stood there, slack-jawed and silent save for the sound of her breathing, until Trixie spoke again.

"Well? Out with it! Say what you really think about Twilight Sparkle, now that Trixie is here!"

Tears welled up in Applejack's unreflecting green eyes. "Tw…Twilight is nothin'…" she whispered.

"Go on…" said Trixie, relishing every word, "and while you're at it, you can apologize for this mediocre meal, as well!"

Applejack's eyes brightened. A shudder passed through her, and she fixed her stance. She gritted her teeth, inhaled deeply, and then shouted:

"Twilight is nothin' less than a perfect friend! …And my Granny's cookin' is FAN-BUCKIN'-TASTIC!"

Trixie snarled. "HOW D-D-D-DARE Y-Y-Youu…?" a fit of tooth-chattering chills forced Trixie to cut off her reprimand partway. She tried again, but the shivering soon became too intense for her to speak intelligibly at all. She staggered back from the table. Her herd of admirers began murmuring anxiously.

Fluttershy leaned out from the nearby tree behind which she'd been hiding from the large crowd. "Oh…oh my!" she said softly, "I think Trixie is ill. I have to help Her!" She slowly flew over to the stricken Goddess, her brows knitted in worry.

While the gathered throng descended upon the banquet despite the Apple family's protests, Twilight watched her Pegasus friend gently lead Trixie down the path to her cottage. Twilight smiled a small but hopeful smile.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

The Pained and Shivering Trixie ducked her head to fit through the door to the rustic cottage. Several small birds inside sang to announce her presence like a chorus of tiny heralds.

Fluttershy nodded toward a well-stuffed green divan in the cottage's living room.

"Please…just lie down there, and I'll get You a blanket," she said.

Trixie's shivering had worsened to the point that her gossamer wings were beginning to fray at the edges; she mentally released their enchantment and allowed them to dissipate before flopping down heavily on the divan.

The yellow Pegasus soon returned with a patchwork quilt dangling from her jaws. She spread it over Trixie's shaking form, but it couldn't quite cover a Pony of her majestic size. Despite her malaise, Trixie raised a quizzical eyebrow at her hostess.

"Um…oh," said Fluttershy sheepishly. "I'm sorry! I'll fetch You another quilt right away!" She darted off.

Alone once more, Trixie curled up under the quilt as best she could and indulged in an anguished grimace. The pain in the pit of her stomach was still there, but the thought of eating made her feel ill. Chills still wracked her, and every breath came in shuddered gasps. Her shimmering, mirrored mane and tail hung limply.

What's happening? She silently wondered. Are the Regalia fighting me? Or did Celestia put some toxic ward on them to keep her treasures safe?

"You won't win," she muttered. "Trixie's in charge now!"

"Yes, Ma'am. Of course, Ma'am," said Fluttershy from the living room doorway. She hovered over to the now-blushing Trixie with an additional quilt hanging from her front hooves. After some careful arranging, Trixie's silver-maned, tiara-topped head peeked out from a cozy cloth cocoon.

"Can I get you anything else, Ma'am?" asked Fluttershy. Her voice was as soft and caring as any nurse's. "Some soup? Perhaps some herbal tea?" She smiled warmly.

For a moment Trixie didn't know what to say. She could feel the Regalia's aura wafting out from her and she could see the enthralled vacancy in the Pegasus' eyes, but somehow she sensed that Fluttershy would have behaved much the same if Trixie had been…what? Her real self? Her forgettable, lost-in-the-crowd self, stooping to telling outrageous lies and even committing high treason, just to get noticed

Trixie's lower lip quivered. She looked away, desperately fighting back tears that seemed to have ambushed her out of nowhere.

"Oh! Am I bothering You, Ma'am? I didn't mean to…" Fluttershy hovered backward.

"N-No!" Trixie croaked around the lump in her throat. "Stay! That is…y-your common quilts are too thin for Trixie's liking. You will have to keep Trixie warm yourself." She still couldn't bring herself to look the Pegasus in the eye.

"Are You…are You asking for a hug, Ma'am?" Fluttershy's caring tone was devoid of any hint of mockery or judgment.

"O-Of course not!" Trixie chided. "Don't be foalish! Trixie is simply c-c-cold!" a fresh bout of shivering seemed to confirm her statement.

Fluttershy silently hovered over, wrapped her front legs around Trixie's quilt-wrapped shoulders and rested her head against her mirrored mane.

Trixie couldn't help but rack her memory for the last time somepony – anypony – had held her. It had been years. Even back at home, Mother and Father had always been so busy. She'd been loved, yes, but with so many brothers and sisters there were only so many moments in the day, and somepony was always teething, or crying, or asking for help with their studies, when all she wanted was to be seen

Trixie's shoulders shuddered, and not from her chills. Indeed, her symptoms seemed to be fading by the second. She sighed softly. She felt close – so achingly close – to some massive emotional release, some intense outpouring of…something…the flood of which she knew would wash away all of her tension and her fear and her –

"WE LOVE YOU TRIXIE!"An obnoxiously loud cry from outside broke the moment's spell. Trixie turned her head to peer out a nearby window.

A great many townsponies were gathered outside, clustered around the cottage's door and windows, stretching and craning to get a glimpse of their illustrious sovereign. In the back of the throng, a pair of Earth Ponies held up a hastily-scrawled banner that read:

ALL HAIL THE GREAT AND POWERFUL TRIX

A sense of exposure and vulnerability filled Trixie, reinforcing her emotional floodgates. Her pain and chills returned, further tainting the moment. "Get off!" she barked. She kicked herself free of the quilts. "Remember your place!" She shoved Fluttershy back with an Orichalcum-shod hoof.

The Pegasus slid off of the divan and down onto the wood floor. She cringed. "I'm sorry, Ma'am!" she insisted. "Whatever I did, I'm sorry!"

Trixie sat up on the divan, letting her silvery mane and tail flow freely. She cast a stern, imperious glance at the assembled crowd outside. They responded with gasps and sighs of delight. Many waved. She turned to face Fluttershy.

"You can redeem yourself by preparing some soup for Trixie," she commanded.

"Yes, Ma'am! Right away, Ma'am!" said Fluttershy. She flitted over to the pantry to fetch some vegetables.

Trixie watched and listened as the Pegasus chopped, poured, sprinkled and cooked as quickly as she could. The whole time, the pleasant smile never left her pale yellow face.

When the meal was ready at last, Fluttershy presented the bowl of nutritious vegetarian stew to her illustrious guest on a wooden tray.

"Here you go, Ma'am," said Fluttershy, slightly out of breath.

Trixie looked down at the tray somewhat dubiously. "Where's the spoon?" she asked.

"...The spoon…?"

Trixie sighed irritatedly. "Yes, you halfwit, the spoon! Do you expect Trixie to slurp her soup from the bowl like some common Earth Pony – or Pegasus?"

"Oh! No, of course not, Ma'am!" said Fluttershy apologetically. "But, um…" Fluttershy's voice grew even softer than usual. "I only have measuring spoons."

Trixie sighed a deeper, more impatient sigh. "Well, then go and find Trixie a spoon worthy of her! And make it fast!"

Fluttershy streaked out the front door at once, bowling over the half-dozen Ponies closest to the door outside. Fluttershy explained the situation amid hasty apologies, and soon a rallying cry of "SPOON! SPOOOON!" could be heard echoing in all directions. Trixie rolled her eyes.

After a few minutes Fluttershy returned, her mane mussed and her breath coming in ragged gasps around the decorated sterling silver spoon clenched in her teeth. She trotted over and carefully set down the fine utensil on the tray.

With a muttered "It's about time," Trixie magicked it up and scooped up a spoonful of the stew. But a moment after tasting it she grimaced theatrically. "Blech!"

"Oh, no!" said Fluttershy. "Is something wrong?"

"This soup is cold!" said Trixie. "How dare you serve The Great and Powerful Trixie cold soup?"

"B-But, I…You wanted…" Fluttershy's brows knitted over her wide cyan eyes.

"No excuses!" Trixie shouted. "Fortunately for you, Trixie has changed her mind. Trixie now desires some tea." When the Pegasus proved slow to react, she added a sudden "NOW!"

Fluttershy yelped, peeped out a quick "Yes, Ma'am!" and raced into action.

Trixie sat, brooding but regal, until Fluttershy finished her work.

The tray balanced on Fluttershy's front hooves as she flew over now held a teapot and a freshly-poured cup of tea. The scents of cinnamon, apple blossom and allspice filled the small living room.

"There you go, Ma'am," said Fluttershy. "Please be careful – it's still hot!"

Trixie magicked up the cup, blew on the tea, and took a small sip. As she did so, a diminutive purple Dragon popped his head up over the far side of the divan. Trixie's small, startled gasp half-choked her on piping-hot tea.

She spat and spluttered in a profoundly un-Goddess-like fashion. Fluttershy yelped in surprise and hopped backward, dropping the tray and teapot as she did so. Spike winced and bit his lower lip, and then slowly ducked back down out of sight.

Trixie cleared her throat and turned to face Fluttershy. "Clean up that mess, you clumsy Buzzard!" she snapped, trying to burn away her embarrassment with hostility. Fluttershy squeaked in reply and darted away to find a rag.

"Who let that Dragon in here, anyway?" Trixie added sulkily when Fluttershy returned.

Fluttershy – who was now busying herself trying to clean up the mess on the floor – tensed for a moment, and then gently, sweetly, but with a tone that suggested countless repetitions, said: "Now, now, Mother…you know there are no Dragons in Cloudsdale."

"What…?" said Trixie, raising an eyebrow.

Fluttershy looked up. Her empty eyes were shining with tears, but her smile was unshakeable. "There are no Dragons in Cloudsdale – n-not one," she said, and picked up the tray – now piled with shards of broken teapot and a sodden rag. "Please…just try to relax."

Trixie stared silently as the Pegasus flew off to dispose of the tray's contents. "Wh…wha…" she said to the empty room.

A small voice from beneath Trixie said: "Yeah…she's got some issues."

Spike crawled out from under the divan. "Maybe You should have been a little less harsh with her," he said hesitantly, but the moment his gaze fell on Trixie he added: "…but I'm sure You had a good reason," and sighed adoringly.

"How did you even get in here?" asked Trixie crossly.

"I slipped past the crowd and squeezed in through a window," said Spike proudly.

Trixie sighed in irritation and got to her hooves. She crept over to the doorway to the adjoining room, and peered around the corner.

Fluttershy was huddled in a corner with her back facing Trixie. She was rocking back and forth, tightly hugging a small white rabbit and sobbing. "P-Please don't hurt him, Mother," she whimpered. "He isn't a spy…I s-swear he isn't…please…!"

The rabbit locked eyes with Trixie over Fluttershy's shoulder and fixed her with an accusing glare. The Regalia may have stopped him from hating Trixie, but he was getting as close to doing so as he possibly could.

Before Trixie could say a word, the temperature in the room suddenly climbed to unbearable levels. She drew back from the doorway, her hide already shining with sweat. Despite the sweltering heat her shivers intensified, as did the pain in her guts. She barely made it back to the divan before collapsing.

"H-help…" she gasped weakly. "T-Trixie…needs h-help…"

Fluttershy was too far away and too upset to hear her, but Spike snapped to attention and saluted. If he felt the punishing heat, he showed no sign of it.

"Yes, Ma'am!" he said brightly. "Sometimes when Twi–" Spike caught himself in mid-sentence as the one eye of Trixie's visible through the strands of her limp mane narrowed menacingly. " – Uh, I mean, the Unicorn I live with, needs help, she has me write a letter to Princess Celestia. You could try that!"

"Don't be a – no, wait!" said Trixie, a tiny touch of strength returning to her voice. "Little Dragon, you will write the letter I dictate, and sign it with that Unicorn's name."

"Sign it…but why?" he asked.

"DO AS TRIXIE SAYS!" she snarled. The effort left her breathless.

"Yes'm!" he chirped hastily, and produced a quill and scroll from nowhere in particular.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

The Royal Princess Luna stood atop the raised dais at the back of Canterlot Castle's throne room, surrounded by dignitaries, courtiers, messengers and servants.

As her sister had suggested, Luna had found that little was different after her centuries-long absence, and that she'd remembered how to juggle affairs of state with little difficulty. Despite the endless formalities and insufferable nobles, she had to admit that it was nice to be the focus of everypony's attention for once. And she was managing it without the Mantle!

As she pressed the tip of her signet-shoe on the wax seal of a new anti-littering ordinance, a greenish flash from above caught her attention; she looked up.

A rolled-up scroll popped into existence in midair and plopped down before her. Intrigued, she waved aside the courtier yammering beside her, magicked open the letter, and quickly skimmed the highlights of its contents:

Dear Princess Celestia … strange happenings … unfamiliar magic … terrible symptoms … counterspell … come at once … Your Faithful Student, Twilight Sparkle.

Luna magicked up a fresh quill from the many occupying a crystal vase at her left and laid out a fresh sheet of paper from the sizeable stack at her right, and wrote a quick reply to her sister's student.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

"You just…burn it?" Trixie asked doubtfully.

"Yup!" said Spike. "And usually it only takes a – *URRP!*" With a fiery belch, Spike received a reply to the letter he'd just sent off.

"Well…?" said Trixie impatiently. "Don't just stand there – tell Trixie what it says!" She struggled to lift her head and look down at the baby Dragon.

"Dear Twilight Sparkle," said Spike, reading from the scroll, "We regret to inform you that Our Royal Sister has taken ill with Alicorn Flu in the past few days, and will be completely unable to attend to Her usual affairs until She recovers – hence Her diversion of Her personal correspondences to Us. Your problem sounds troubling, but We must ask that you try to research a solution on your own. We are too busy acting in Celestia's stead to come to Ponyville, and any contact with Our sister in Her present state would mean sickness and certain death for any non-Alicorn – perhaps even for you. Harmonia Vobiscum. Alacorna Noctis, Luna Principissa."

Trixie's jaw dropped. The frigid terror crawling down her spine did nothing to alleviate her fever. The room seemed to spin around her. "It…it can't be…" she said softly.

"Oh, don't worry," said Spike. "I'm sure Celestia will be fine."

"Shut up!" Trixie snapped. She struggled her way onto her hooves. "Trixie has to think…"

Vital or not, Trixie quickly found thinking all but impossible. The pain in her belly, the chills and the fever, combined with the letter's dire news about what they all meant, crowded out any chance of formulating an alternative to doing what she desperately did not want to do.

"No choice…gotta go fast…" she muttered, and ignited her horn. "Gotta fly…"

A faint cocoon of light began to form around Trixie's wracked form, but the spell matrix soon collapsed. Sickened as she was, she didn't have the strength to re-create the gossamer wings. No! It's too far to go on hoof! She silently lamented. How can… Unbidden, the memory of a cocky rainbow-maned blue Pegasus popped into her head. YES!

Trixie staggered to the front door and opened it. The crowd waiting out in the crisp evening air cheered and stomped applause on sight of her.

"Silence!" she shouted. The throng instantly obeyed.

Trixie scanned the masses frantically, searching in the deepening dark for that unique multicoloured coiffure. And there she was – hovering up at the back of the crowd, with a white Unicorn dangling from her front hooves.

"You!" Trixie called out as she pointed to the pair. "Approach Trixie at once!"

Rainbow Dash flapped over the crowd and set Rarity down before landing next to her. Rarity was carrying a sparkling formal gown with a matching saddle and wrap.

"Oh, I am so happy You noticed me!" gushed Rarity. "I have been working on this piece for weeks, and as soon as I saw You, I knew nopony else could do it justice!"

"Uh-huh," Trixie said, and then magicked up the saddle. She slipped it on but then turned it over, leaving the saddle resting against her belly and the straps spread across her back.

Rarity giggled demurely, hiding the faux pas behind a front hoof. "Oh, no, Milady – it goes the other w–"

"Mm-hm," Trixie said, and turned to face Rainbow Dash. "You there – you say you're a fast flyer, right?"

"The FASTEST!" said Dash proudly. "I mean, You saw me the last time You were here – oh, no hard feelings, by the way. Now that I know You better, I totally see where You were coming fro–"

"I DON'T CARE!" Trixie snapped. "Err, that is, Trixie doesn't care! Right now Trixie needs to get to Canterlot very, very quickly, so you will carry Trixie there."

"You got it!" said Dash. She flew up above Trixie and worked her legs under the saddle straps.

"Why are you going to Canterlot?" asked Spike from the doorway. "What about Celestia's fl–" A magicked zipper sealed Spike's mouth. Trixie smiled innocently.

Rarity looked up at Rainbow Dash. "You're going to carry an Alicorn-sized Pony all the way to Canterlot?" she asked incredulously. "That's ridiculous!" She faced Trixie. "I have plenty of friends in the carriage business – just let me ask around a bit, Milady, and I can see that You travel in the style to which somepony of Your grace and nobility is surely accustom–"

"NOT. INTERESTED," said Trixie with menacing gravity. "Why don't you run along and push your tacky trash on somepony gullible enough to want it?"

A pink flush crept across Rarity's alabaster hide, focusing in an almost cherry-red shade on her face.

"Trash…?" she said in disbelief. "Y-You think it's…" Rarity turned up her nose and magicked up the rest of the ensemble. She turned on her hooves and trotted away. She was well-hidden in the depths of the crowd when she unleashed a pitiful wail perfectly blending outrage and despair.

Trixie's legs gave out.

She collapsed on the grass and Rainbow Dash, pulled by the straps, crashed down on top of her.

"Oof! Are you all right, Trixie?" asked Rainbow Dash.

"Canterlot," whispered Trixie softly. "Now."

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Princess Celestia turned over in her luxurious bed and sighed a blissful sigh. It had been centuries since she had gone a day without having to manage any affairs of state or celestial bodies, and the break had been positively rejuvenating.

So, it was with a refreshed body and a relaxed mind that she met the sight of a pair of blue Ponies crashing down on her balcony.

The two had fallen out of the night sky like a shooting star and torn a silken curtain from the balcony archway on their way inside. They lay on the smooth marble floor in a heap.

The smaller Pony – a rainbow-maned sky-blue Pegasus – wriggled free of the rich fabric and stood at attention. Her hide and mane were soaking with sweat, her wide eyes were unfocused, and she was breathing in short, desperate gasps. She saluted in something like Celestia's direction, and said:

"P-p…pres…presenting…Th-The…Gr-great…and P-powerf-f-ffff…"

She collapsed.

Celestia frowned, magicked the curtain off the second Pony and wrapped it around the exhausted Pegasus like a blanket. The Alicorn turned to face the now-exposed Unicorn at her hooves.

Trixie struggled free of the off-kilter saddle and sat up. She met the Princess' gaze with only minimal terror showing in her purple eyes.

"T-Trixie has c-come to…" She swallowed, silently chiding herself for letting so much fear creep into her voice. "…to demand a cure for the Alicorn Flu!"

Celestia raised an eyebrow. "Oh, my little Pony – have you caught my terrible sickness?" Her voice was soaking in honey-sweet sympathy and concern. "How can that be? I have been sequestered in my chambers!"

Trixie looked away. "You know how," she muttered. "Trixie is wearing your Regalia!"

Celestia put a pensive front hoof to her chin. "Hmm…! Why, so you are! I did wonder where those had got to!" She glanced over at Rainbow Dash's unconscious form for a moment. "But you sound like a Canterlotter – what were you doing all the way over in Ponyville? And why did you bring this hard-working Pegasus with you when you returned?"

Trixie scowled. Her innards felt like she'd swallowed broken glass, her shivering made every breath a struggle, her fever made the room seem to swim, and not even a rampaging Dragon could make her legs support her weight – and now her only hope for survival was toying with her. Fine, she thought to herself. Trixie will play your game.

"Trixie came to Ponyville…to get revenge," she said. "Trixie was made a fool of in that town, and the Regalia let Trixie get back at the Ponies there. But then Trixie got sick, and Trixie used this Pegasus to speed up the trip to come ask for a cure." She stared daggers at Celestia. "And then a certain Alicorn started asking all sorts of foalish questions instead of saving Trixie's life!"

Celestia winced. "You had her bring you straight to me, even though you knew she'd be exposed to the Alicorn Flu by doing so?"

Trixie growled in frustration. "YES, OKAY! YES! Now, hurry up and–"

All at once, the darkness in the room seemed to deepen; the shadows splashed up the walls and across the floor and ceiling, and even Celestia's stark white hide dimmed. Soon, everything had turned completely, impenetrably black.

No…not black…

"Blind!" Trixie gasped. "I'M BLIND!"

Trixie heard Celestia let out a small, saddened sigh. "More than you know," she whispered.

"WHAT? Trixie doesn't…Trixie…" Tears welled up in Trixie's sightless eyes. Whatever internal floodgate Fluttershy had cracked ruptured violently. Trixie fell down on her side and wailed:

"I DON'T WANNA DIE!"She curled her head forward and sobbed between her useless front legs.

Trixie felt a strong but gentle field of magic wrap around her and lift her up. The magic turned her over and cradled her like a foal before setting her down on Celestia's soft bed.

"P-Pleeeez…" Trixie whimpered. "I don't wanna die…" She sniffled. "I just w-wanted to follow my Cutie Mark…to use my s-special talent…is that so WRONG?" She fell into another fit of weeping.

Celestia stroked Trixie's mirrored mane with a bare front hoof. "Shhh…there, there. I know. It must be hard to have a Cutie Mark for thievery."

"Wh-what? No! That's not–"

"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Celestia. "My mistake. So it must be vengeance, then?"

"No!"

"Tyranny?"

"NO!" Trixie shouted as loudly as her sickness would allow. "It's magic! I'm a showpony! A MAGICIAN!"

"Ohhhhh…!" said Celestia in mock surprise. "But if you're a magician, how would stealing a dangerously-powerful set of enchanted relics and using them to ruthlessly and cruelly dominate Ponies you hardly know make for an entertaining performance?"

"I…" Trixie turned away from the sound of Celestia's voice. "…That wasn't part of the show."

"Then why did you do it?"

Trixie gritted her teeth. She rolled back in Celestia's direction, and shouted:

"BECAUSE I WAS ANGRY!" The Regalia glowed for a moment, and thunder rumbled from the night sky.

As the echoes of the thunder faded the chamber fell silent for a long moment. Eventually, Celestia softly said:

"You don't have Alicorn Flu, Trixie."

Blind or not, Trixie stared in disbelief. "I…I don't?" she squeaked.

"No, my little Pony. There's no such thing."

"B-But…what about…?"

Celestia pulled Trixie into a hug. "What you're feeling isn't sickness, Trixie – it's punishment."

"Punishment?"

"Yes. I used the Elements of Harmony to create the Regalia of the Day-Mare, and the two share an unbreakable bond. When I…did something regrettable…many years ago, the Elements' disapproval fed back through the Regalia and made me experience the pain of the Pony I had wronged. I have been watching you, Trixie, and the same thing has been happening to you each time you have violated the spirit of the Elements." Celestia set Trixie back down. "You are sick because you used the Regalia to be mean-spirited, deceitful, cruel, selfish and disloyal."

Trixie blushed. "I wasn't!" A shiver passed through her so strongly that she tipped over. "I mean, they had it coming!" Trixie's fever rose. "*Rrrgh!* FINE! It's true! I was a vicious, lying, NAG! Is that what you want to hear? I did awful things to Ponies – even when they were good to me – and…" A brief instant of awareness flickered on Trixie's tear-streaked face. "…And I probably deserved this."

Bit by bit, Trixie's fever abated. Her shivers settled, and the twisting pain in her stomach subsided. Feeling slowly returned to her limbs, and the soft glow of moonlight gradually illuminated the room.

Celestia gently reached forward with her front hooves, plucked the tiara from Trixie's brow, and slipped it on. She then took back the other relics one by one, until Celestia had returned to her usual divine splendor and the Mundane and Mortal Trixie lay revealed on the silken bedspread.

"So I suppose it's off to the dungeon with me?" asked Trixie morosely.

"Not at all," Celestia replied. "Where do I get this reputation?"

A touch of Trixie's customary vainglory returned. "Then…Trixie is free to go?"

"Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. You left quite a mess behind you in Ponyville – not to mention a confused and irritated Ursa Major! Did you really think you'd just trot off into the sunrise?"

Trixie looked away. "…Maybe."

Celestia chuckled demurely. "You remind me a great deal of myself a few hundred years ago, Trixie. Count yourself lucky for that. Now…I have to head to Ponyville at once. In the meantime, you will remain here, think about what you've done, and get some rest. Once things calm down, I'll come back for you." Celestia magicked Rainbow Dash's unconscious form onto her back.

"Oh, and Trixie?" Celestia added as her horn ignited with the white glow of a teleportation spell. "If you try any disappearing acts, I will be extremely…disappointed."

Trixie gulped.

•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Ponyville had seen better days, but the town still stood.

Ponies galloped to and fro, busily filling in pawprints, replacing broken windows, replanting flowers, and generally tidying up.

Applejack and Rarity led the repair teams – with wildly different priorities as to form versus function.

Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, respectively, took care of making and delivering refreshments, while Fluttershy tended to hurt and frightened animals in the area with the aid of Angel the Bunny and Spike, neither of whom had left her side since the evening before.

As was her wont, Twilight Sparkle took care of organization. Once she had returned from escorting the Ursa Major back into the woods, the addition of Princess Celestia's prodigious magical talents made the reconstruction go by all the faster.

The next morning Celestia called for the townsponies to assemble in the auditorium.

"My loyal subjects," she stated from the podium adjoining the stage, "I would like to extend my deepest sympathies for the troubles you have all endured of late, and also express my admiration for the bravery and resolve many of you showed in facing those troubles." Celestia nodded deeply to the crowd, which responded with a wave of cheers and applause.

"Now, though," Celestia continued, "I believe somepony else has something to say to you all."

Celestia magicked open the stage curtains, and The…well, The Blue Unicorn Trixie stood revealed. She trotted forward to the edge of the stage with all of the dignity that she could muster. The Ponies in the crowd whispered and murmured.

"What's she doing here?" asked Rainbow Dash from the front row, sitting down and crossing her front hooves.

"Ya gonna do a trick?" added Applejack. "'Cause I bet ya could do a great apple tree impression…" she fixed her stance.

"That's enough!" snapped Celestia. In a heartbeat, the auditorium was as silent as a tomb. "Trixie – tell them why you are here."

"Tr…Trixie…is…" Trixie looked at Celestia, her eyes imploring. Celestia narrowed her eyes and nodded to the crowd. Trixie sighed in surrender. "Trixie is here to make amends for what she's done. It was wrong of Trixie to enchant you all with her glorious, radiant–" Celestia cleared her throat. "…Trixie is sorry."

Trixie trotted over to the right side of the stage, where Twilight Sparkle and her friends occupied the front row. "Trixie is sorry for having you locked up," she said to Twilight, biting off the words as if they were so much bitter ash in her mouth.

"And…?" Asked Twilight, pointing at the pink Earth Pony next to her with a front hoof.

Trixie faced Pinkie Pie. "…And for using humour for evil."

Pinkie smiled. "Aww, it's okay!" she said brightly. "Nopony's perfec–"

"And…?" Applejack interrupted.

Trixie sighed. "And for trying to make you slander Twilight Sparkle." Applejack's frown remained. "…and your Granny's cooking." The frown disappeared, replaced by a happy grin.

"And?" said Rarity, raising an eyebrow.

Trixie gritted her teeth. "And for calling your wares tacky."

"An-nn-nd?" said Rainbow Dash, tilting her head as she drew out the word.

Trixie grunted in frustration. She trotted her front hooves in place. "And for working you half to death just to save travel time!"

Fluttershy stayed silent, but the one wide eye of hers that peeked out from between the locks of her rosy pink mane held more pain and sadness than any of her friends' voices.

Trixie looked away and bit her lower lip. "And for…for…" Trixie sagged. "Trixie is just sorry." After the forced ordeal of the rest of her speech, Trixie was surprised to find that she meant it.

"Apology accepted," said Twilight Sparkle. Her friends nodded in agreement.

"Well good," said Trixie, straightening once more. "Trixie is glad this is all over with."

"Not quite yet," said Celestia from behind Trixie. "There's still the matter of your punishment."

Trixie's ears drooped. "What? B-But Trixie did as you asked!"

"Apologies are vital things, but in the end they are still just words," said Celestia. "They lose their meaning if you don't act on them. I sent word to my Sister earlier – she'll know what to do with you." Celestia's horn ignited with the white glow of a teleportation spell.

"Wait – what?" said Trixie anxiously. "What's that supposed to mea-aa-aan…?" her voice echoed as she vanished in a burst of white-hot magic. The crowd cheered.

"Thanks again for helping us, Princess," said Twilight, once the hubbub had died down. "I don't know what we would have done without you!"

"Don't sell yourself short, my faithful student," Celestia replied, spreading her wings and hopping down off the stage. "You showed a great deal of wisdom in dealing with…recent events."

Twilight frowned. "But I just sat in a cage – I barely did anything! Trixie seemed so powerful, so imposing, so…" Twilight trailed off.

"…So much like me?" asked Celestia.

"That's not…! I mean, it was just in the way that she…" Twilight blushed and cleared her throat. "How did she do it?"

Celestia looked out one of the auditorium's upper windows, where the multi-coloured gleam of the stained glass windows in Canterlot's Royal Palace was just barely visible to her magic-augmented eyes.

"I'm sorry, my faithful student, but there are some answers I am simply not yet ready to share with you. Trixie is gone, and she will do suitable penance – I've seen to that." Celestia turned to face the Unicorn before her and smiled. "The important thing is that you didn't give up hope – or give up on your friends – even when things seemed darkest. That is no mean feat, Twilight Sparkle; it may yet serve you well, and sooner than you think."

"Princess?"

Celestia looked back to the distant palace, and once more whispered:

"…Sooner than you think."

•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

EPILOGUE

The Sullen and Sweaty Trixie set down her magicked squeegee and dunked her horn in a nearby bucket of soapy water. The water sizzled as her horn cooled, and Trixie hissed in a sharp breath. She raised her head once more and turned to look at the Palace's great hall – and its seemingly-endless supply of decorated windows. She sighed exhaustedly.

"Don't stop now," said the fuchsia-maned white Unicorn at her side. "After these windows, there's still the library, the Ivory Tower, the observatory–"

"All right, all right!" Trixie interjected, adding a quick "Sheesh!" under her breath. She magicked up the squeegee and dipped it in the soapy water.

"It's funny, you know," said Moondancer while Trixie returned to her task, "I had the strangest dream about a Unicorn named Trixie not that long ago, and then Princess Celestia assigned you as my assistant, and your name is Trixie! Isn't that weird?"

"What are the odds?" said Trixie in mock astonishment. She craned her neck, straining to magick the squeegee all the way to the top of a window depicting the defeat of Nightmare Moon.

"I know! It's like…it was meant to be." Moondancer smiled. "I'll never understand Alicorns, though. I mean, I show up to work for Princess Luna late and hung over – and I swear, I still don't remember why I thought all that cider was a good idea – and Her Royal Sister gives me an assistant for the next six months! Don't get me wrong – I'm glad I get to spend more time studying with Princess Luna and less time doing chores for Her – but what kind of sense does that make?"

Trixie gritted her teeth. Her expression twisted into a scowl. The squeegee's smooth path across the glass wavered. But then, all at once, her face relaxed, her eyes lost their furious gleam, and she softly muttered:

"…Trixie is sure Celestia did what She thought was right."

THE END