"Anyone here from Manehattan?" Trixie asked, holding the microphone in one hoof.
Somepony in the audience cheered.
"Well, there goes half my material
" she said, grinning at the roar of laughter. "Please tell me there's someone from Canterlot?"
Another cheer, this time from near the back.
"Good. Unlike the Manehattan lot, you Canterlot ponies won't rush the stage if I start telling jokes about you."
"Want to bet?" a voice shouted over frantic shushing.
"Oh, that's unusual. What's your field of study, fisticuffs? Actually, on second thought, don't tell me. I think I'd rather not find out." The unicorn looked around nervously. "Uh
why did the chicken cross the road?"
Another gale of laughter. Trixie caught sight of the heckler, Spike, practically falling off his chair.
"No, seriously, though, I do have some actual good stuff. I lived in Cloudsdale once. Lovely place, terrible travel agents. I once booked a trip to Las Pegasus. Pretty neat price, a week there, and the tickets listed the departure as from my house. So, I waited, and three hours after the departure time
Trixie reached the end of the stage and turned back, still talking. "So I went back to the travel agent, and complained. There wasn't anyone at the desk, so I had to shout to be heard. I said, this is a terrible deal, you've not provided the travel which is sort of your whole point. As a travel agent. And the pony in the back said, you've got wings haven't you?"
Turning to face the crowd, Trixie wore a hang-dog expression. "I said, that's news to me, bucko, because all these years I thought I was a unicorn!"
At the back of the crowd, five ponies and a dragon looked between themselves.
Spike spoke first. "Told you they'd love her."
"Well, I suppose she is the Element of Laughter
" Twilight muttered. "I thought my heart would stop when she tried her routine on Nightmare Moon."
"Huh." Twilight said, as the scrying spell faded. "I didn't expect you to show me that."
Trixie shrugged. "I only found how to make it show alternate realties an hour or so ago, I was intrigued. That one's where Pinkie never left her old farm. And there is one other that I'd like you to see."
As Twilight stepped out of the chariot into the town that would be her new home, a grey mare approached her.
"Ah, you must be the Princess' envoy to our humble town? We received word that you were coming to oversee preparations. It's not every year that the Summer Sun celebration is centred here, after all."
"Actually, no. I'm the new librarian." The lavender unicorn pointed behind her. "That's her."
With a bang, a sky blue unicorn wearing a magician's hat and cape appeared in a cloud of smoke. "It is I! The great and powerful Trixie, Special Envoy to her Majesty Princess Celestia!"
Twilight leant in to the mayor. "She does this a lot. I tend to tune it out."
The real Twilight's jaw had dropped. "What?"
Trixie smiled. "I found this one by accident. Basically, we grew up together in Celestia's school." Her smile turned melancholy. "It looks like it would have been a
happier life, for me."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Suffice to say that I didn't know what I had until Cadence woke me up two days ago, and I realized my parents and siblings were likely all dead and buried."
Twilight winced. Discovering that her own family had survived Discord's madness (albeit mostly as inanimate objects) had left her feeling guilty over her good fortune.
Seeing her expression, Trixie shrugged. "I've come to terms with it. Apotheosis isn't easy, but it certainly removes a lot of stress. And I've got you to thank for it Cadence told me that half of what she used on me were your friendship reports."
"She did? Er
what happened? How would friendship reports do anything?"
Trixie adjusted the scrying spell, and began to explain what was going on around them.
"You might not be aware of what Discord did to me
Alabaster padded outside to the balcony, stopping beside a small form staring into the night.
"Bit for your thoughts?"
"I'll take that offer." Fluttercruel said. The griffin chuckled, and lifted one from the pouch slung about his neck.
"Here you go. Now, what's the matter?"
The faded pegasus didn't speak for a long moment. "I just
feel so out of place. I thought I was
and now it turns out
and my father's changed completely and everyone's just happy about it! Buck, they're all herbivores, and I
Alabaster spread a white wing over 'cruel. "I'm not. Lifelong predator, me."
Her face scrunched up, and she used her own wing to flap at his.
"You know, your existence is just as precious. Come on. I'm sure they'd love to get to know you."
Fluttercruel shook herself free. "I'm
no, I can't. Not yet."
Alabaster watched her for a moment. "Fine, then. But we'll never close our doors to you, and you will always find me a sympathetic ear." The griffin unslung his pouch of money, took half the contents out and passed the bag to her. "Here. If you're doing what I think, you'll need funds."
'cruel took it. "...I guess... thanks."
"No problem. Do me a favour, though? Remember the whole 'no killing sentient beings' thing. I'd hate to hear about you up on charges."
"Guess I can give it a try." Without another word, 'cruel crouched and leapt into the air, disappearing to the east with powerful wingbeats.
Shaking his head, Alabaster turned away. He caught sight of Cadence standing at the window.
"That poor mare
" the princess said sadly. "It's never easy when things change like they did for her. Thank you for being understanding for her."
The griffin chuckled. "My pleasure. I wonder how she'd have gotten along with my grandmother
" His eyes became wistful. "Tough as nails old buzzard, she was. I'll have to ask Trixie if I can see what she was like as a chick
Applejack pushed the door in front of her open. "You okay, Rainbow Dash?"
Muted sobbing answered her.
AJ trotted forward to the despondent pegasus on the floor. "Come on, now."
"You don't know what it was like. He didn't break me. I
I broke myself. All the time, I could remember. I abandoned you, I left you and doomed us all for nothing."
"Nothing's a funny way of putting it." The earth pony said, crouching down. "You know, by my way of thinking you didn't actually betray your element. You were forced to choose, sure, but it ain't the first time that's happened and from what they tell me, historically they didn't have a better answer."
Dash said nothing. AJ dredged her memories for the example she'd heard about. "Way back before the foundin' of Equestria, there was a couple of pegasus nations next to one another. They had the feudal system goin' on, you know, the thing where a family owned somewhere and they were in charge of the families below them?"
With a sniff, Dash nodded almost against her will.
"Well, so happened that the pegasus king in charge of one o' those countries, he married the daughter of a duke from the other one. And when the duke died, he inherited the duke's title, and his land and all that."
"Now, the king had a problem. He was the king of Witherland, which meant he wasn't supposed to be a vassal and wasn't loyal to anypony, but he was also the duke of Equitaine. And the duke of Equitaine had to be loyal to the king of Prance."
Dash frowned. "Sounds like a mess."
"That it was, sugarcube. And what do you think he did about it?" AJ waited for the pegasus to shrug. "He went and decided that the only way for it all to work out was for him to be king of Prance, too."
"Well, this was what started the hundred years' war
AJ silently cheered when she felt Dash chuckle. "You got it, friend. Hundred years and nopony came up with a better answer than that."
The earth pony shifted a little. "There's something that we have to understand about these here elements. They ain't so much a part of us, as something we earn. And if we lose them
we just need to earn them again. Sakes, look at me. Ah was Kindness yesterday, not Honesty. And bein' loyal to everyone ain't the same as being loyal to no-one, because you can use your own judgement to tell what's best for everyone."
"Not like that went well." Dash muttered darkly.
"Actually, ah think that there wasn't any such thing as a good choice there. It's like askin' Fluttershy if she's stopped hittin' her animals yet yes or no."
"Wait, what? She hits her animals?" The pegasus blinked, thrown by the idea.
"Never did, sugar. But that's the point. Don't matter what she might answer yes or no, it makes you think she did it. It ain't a fair question."
"That was strange." Twilight commented, as the spell cancelled again. "Me as the Element of Laughter? Pinkie as the Element of Magic?"
"I suspect that any pony or griffin, or dragon could be any of the elements with the right life. It's rarer they have the strength, of course." Trixie looked wistful for a moment they'd seen a lot of worlds in this session. "But I have a concern. I think you may be using your desire to find out about the spells we used to free your friends to avoid actually speaking to them."
"What? I'm just
"I don't mean to imply that it's conscious. But the corruption process leaves a lot of mental residue, and since it took a deity and a lot of luck to cleanse me magically I think you'll have to do it the normal way."
Twilight seized on the new information. "What do you mean, luck?"
"According to Cadence, I was holding at about twenty seconds from becoming a Nightmare for a good few minutes. That's what the black colour on my coat was. Make no mistake, what she and I did was a drastic measure." Trixie's lips quirked in a grin. "It's too risky whenever a psychotic goddess wouldn't actually improve the scenery."
The unicorn winced. "I take your point."
"Now, go on. We'll continue tomorrow."
"Are you alright?"
Discord didn't turn to the speaker, staring at a small cress seed in his hand. "Where did I go wrong, Celly? I mean, look at what I did to the Element bearers. I ruined them. Those sparks they had, that made them amusing to me
I crushed them, smothered them under an ocean of pain. All for five minutes of fun."
The alicorn of the Sun felt her voice quaver. "I don't know. I just don't know. None of us could understand it." A pause. "I don't understand a lot about
us. Deities. There's a side of me that wants to play with the lives of my ponies. There's a side of me that screams out that I deserve to rule over Equestria unchallenged and uncompromisingly. There's part of me that wants to
well." Celestia coughed, suddenly embarrassed. "Forget that one. I've wanted to sometimes
"But you never gave in to them, did you?"
"You'd be surprised. Oh, never as much as you did I mean, I never had two powerful alicorns blast my mind until it broke, as you had with your parents but quite enough. I played my share of pranks, especially on Twilight and her friends."
"Anything good?" Discord asked, frowning at the cress seed. It cracked open, and a pair of leaves unfurled. "Ah, knew I'd get it eventually."
"I did send her far too few tickets for the Gala. And my reason to invite them in the first place was to cause a bit of chaos it had got entirely too boring." Celestia chuckled. "I suppose I missed you."
glad, to hear that. Perhaps if I'd been less all-out when I escaped we might have avoided all this." Discord raised the plant on his hand. "Want some?"
Celestia blinked, thrown. "Is that plant fruiting
"More than that." The draconequus peeled his creation's fruit, and revealed a square slice of pink cake. "I tried for chocolate, but for some reason it's come out strawberry
Breaking off a piece with her magic, Celestia nibbled it. "No, I don't think that's strawberry. That's lime."
"Huh. Interesting." Discord tossed the cake over his shoulder, where it transformed into a plant pot. The husk went next, and became earth. The plant itself walked over to the pot with a pair of root-feet, sunk itself into the pot, and went still. "Might have to work on that, it has potential. Nobody expects a pink lime cake."
"Is this your new style? I like it." Celestia commented. "May not be as dramatic, but it's both kinder and more likely to be accepted."
His face fell. "Speaking of kindness, how is Fluttershy taking it? And the other Fluttercruel, I suppose."
"Fluttershy is doing fairly well. Pinkie Pie has been keeping her upbeat, and her joining in the Elements to replace Liarjack has done wonders for her self esteem. As for Fluttercruel
" Celestia tailed off. "She left last night. Headed for Neighpon, I think."
"They did take my madness better than others. I'll have to speak to her sometime."
"Give her some space for now." Celestia advised. "She's just found out she's not who she thought she was."
"If you say so. Are her needs met? I feel responsible."
"Rightly, I'd think. And don't worry, Alabaster the griffin, the second Element of Generosity provided her with funds as she left. She should have enough for a while."
"Good." Discord winced. "It's so hard, this. I feel kind of resentful that we didn't finish growing up together like we should. And I have almost no people skills that seem to work."
Celestia chuckled again. "You should have seen Luna. She blew up a microwave."
For a moment, Twilight just stared at the purple form across from her.
Then she galloped forward and embraced him. "Thank you, Spike. Thank you for never giving up on me."
"What kind of assistant would I be?" Spike replied with a rumble of laughter. "And you're basically my mother, even if it got a bit confusing."
Twilight choked out a laugh, and kicked him in the chest with a foreleg. "Looks like you did end up as the new Rainbow Dash."
"Heh." The dragon twisted, turning his bulk to be more comfortable. "It was strange. Basically just questions 'what is your hoard?' And I said I didn't have one, then the voice asked about you and Rarity and AJ and Dash and Pinkie and Fluttershy
and I had to admit that I cared for you. Of course I did. And
well, long story short, the voice pointed out how you guys were my hoard and any dragon protects their hoard loyally."
"Interesting approach." Twilight mused. "I take it that was Cadence?"
"Yeah, I barely remembered her. I remembered your brother, of course." Spike grinned, "But the little shield gemstone thing on his armour was new."
"His Element?" Twilight checked.
"Yeah. Heh, it's harder for me than you guys. To me, the Elements kinda look tasty."
" Alabaster said, raising an eyebrow. "It is a small world after all."
Trixie's past-viewing spell continued to play out around them. They watched as Alabaster's grandmother shouted at over a dozen ponies, and left Ponyville in tears.
"I wonder if Rainbow Dash would want to know that you're the grandson of her estranged friend." Trixie said, as the spell rewound time to Gilda's early life. "If she's anything like me, she'll be full of regrets for all those who passed on in the last hundred years."
"I'll ask her."
"It's a funny thing, you know." Trixie stared off into nothingness for a moment. "Sometimes, when I contemplate the infinity of parallel worlds, I feel like it's all for nothing." Her mood shifted. "But then I remember that every second, out there, a Twilight Sparkle breaks free of the lies Discord's own corruption instilled in her. Every second, a Rainbow Dash destroys a decade of overcast gloom with a Sonic Rainboom. Every second, a pony or a dragon or a griffin or a diamond dog or
anyone, saves their world from darkness and despair. So how can I fail that numberless multitude?"
She winked. "Besides, I bet some of them are watching me. The least Trixie can do is put on a bit of a show!"
"It's not fair."
Rarity stared at the gravestone. A music note, a name, and a date of birth. There wasn't a date of death, except approximate timekeeping became an unusual concept during the Reign of Chaos. It was enough to know that the pony buried beneath had been gone less than five years.
"I only realized how much you meant to me when you were gone. It's not fair."
The unicorn kicked the ground savagely. "I couldn't even do greed right. Why didn't I want you? I
wasted all those years." Tears began to fall. "It isn't fair that I should live and you end up dying. It isn't fair that the good die young."
Rarity felt faint, thoughts whirling. "I'm supposed to be Generosity. But I can't give what some people need. If I gave what one person needed, it might mean I couldn't give what someone else needed. If I gave only what I could, then there'd be people worse off than me. I couldn't give enough to make everyone happy! The whole world is unfair! It's not greedy to want to live, is it? But everyone's greedy, everyone takes what they can without thinking about others, everyone needs to give everything or it's not fair! The only things they should get are things everyone can get without running out!"
Blackness ran across her coat.
"I'll have to take on the burden of organizing it."
The illusion of Spike and five other dragons saving the world from a dragon so vast his wings blotted out the sky shattered, and Trixie gasped with pain.
Twilight and Spike ran over to her. "Are you alright?"
don't know." Trixie said, scared. "I've never felt like this before. Something feels fundamentally wrong."
Celestia and Luna exchanged glances, then looked at Discord, who met their gaze with equal concern on his face. "Don't look at me. I didn't have anything planned except graffiti on the moon."
"I recognize this." Celestia said, suddenly. "I don't know who it is, but it is reminiscent of Luna's corruption."
"Oh." Discord looked even worse.
"We must move. Prevent whatever it is from leaving Canterlot. Discord, I shall require your help." Luna lit her horn, colour dancing around it. "We must lock off the space within five miles of this point in a self-contained bubble."
"Will do." The draconequus snapped his claws, producing a horde of moths. "They'll mark your boundary. Celestia, you clear everyone that you can from the area. Luna and I will secure the bubble wall."
Celestia crouched and launched herself into the air.
"What of Cadence?" Luna asked.
Discord's eyes rolled up for a moment as he thought. "I assume she's headed to try and assemble the Elements whichever ones it may turn out to be."
Half a dozen statues stood mutely in the gardens. No rock constructs these, but paralyzed living ponies with their faces frozen into adoring grins.
"There you go." A melodious voice said. "Now you won't want for anything. Isn't that generous of me, to give of my power so you can live in eternal bliss?"
A small bird thudded into the grass, with a similar expression of boundless pleasure.
The source of the voice, a white alicorn with a perfect purple mane and a beauty beyond words, lifted the bird up and placed him on the wing of one of the pegasi. Like everything else, the placement was perfect.
"Ah, I do enjoy seeing another guest. I see you enjoy how I look, like all the rest. As you should. Am I not Nightmare Charity, after all
the fairest of them all? Just keep looking, and nothing else will matter. It is the only way not to be selfish with happiness. And my power even holds you so that neither hunger nor pain may inconvenience you. It's the only way to make sure there's enough for everyone, wouldn't you agree?"