Harsh white light flared, illuminating Rainbow Dash’s reclining body, and reflecting in the eyes of Applejack, where they captured a horrified look. She stood, braced against anything, valiant.
Then, it was gone again, and Applejack screwed her face up—and the house shook to a rumbling thunderclap.
“C’mon, Boss! Come to bed. What’s the matter?”
“Nothin’! Nothin’s the matter, Dashie, what give you that idea?”
Rainbow Dash looked quizzically at her lover. “How about the way you’re standing? It would be great if I was about to pounce on you and churn you into a puddle. I’d love to do that, but I can’t, in case you’ve forgotten. You look scared. Is it the thunder?”
“I ain’t scared of no thunder!” protested Applejack. “An’ I’m jes’ fine here, thank y’all. I do not need to go to bed!”
Rainbow Dash looked more closely. Applejack’s hind legs were quivering, though her head was held high and her gaze was proud and a little too wide-eyed. She flinched, visibly, at another lightning flash, and set her jaw, refusing to react as the thunder banged the shutters of the house.
“It’s just the night shift, Applejack,” said Dash. “Cumulonimbus team. You know? I know the ponies who’re doing this personally, and why they’re doing it. We have a low pressure system developing over Fillydelphia and they’ve got to move these cloud fronts through and let them discharge. We wouldn’t want to ruin ponies’ days, now would we? They’re not in danger, they’re pushing from the side and we always check to see that no ponies are stuck outside overnight. It’s perfectly safe—if you’re a pegasus pony.”
“Dandy,” said Applejack.
“So come to bed, already! Want some cuddles?”
“I do not need to go to bed! An’ I do not need no cuddles, and I certainly do not need to hide under them blankets! As if I would ever need to do such a thing, much less make a habit of it! No, ma’am, I am jes fiiEEEE!”
Another lightning flash interrupted her. Dash looked on with concern, as the thunder hit and her stubborn marefriend winced again. The trembling in her legs was worse now.
“Oh, come on! You can’t do this to me, Applejack, talk about unreasonable!”
“Talk about what you please. I’m jes’ enjoyin’ the night air. It’s so consarn refreshin’ I could jes’ spit. Get your sleep, sugarcube, you got work tomorrow.”
“So do you!” protested Dash.
“Some nights I jes’ like to sit up and then work in the mornin’. No concern o’ yours.”
Rainbow Dash thought fast. This had to be addressed—she was not about to be defeated by Applejack’s pride and refusal to admit her terror. This wasn’t going to respond to direct attack. What would some cunning, devious pony like Rarity do?
“But…” said Rainbow Dash, and stuck her lower lip out, pouting.
“But what if I want you to hold ME? Huh? What then?”
Applejack blinked. “Wait. You, scared? You spit your bit or somethin’? You’re the one who’s gonna be makin’ fun of me! Or you would. Maybe. How can you be th’ scared one?”
Rainbow Dash sniffled. “Do you think it’s easy? Working every day with those towering thunderheads, looming above you, huge shafts of electricity arcing through the air around you, it’s so exc… I mean, terrifying!” The effect was ruined by a Rainbow Dash giggle that she tried heroically to repress.
Applejack glared at her lover. “You are laughin’ at me! Dashie!”
“Am not!” protested Dash. “It’s awful, just awful! And all I want is to come home and be with my love where it’s safe, and be held tightly by her, like really really really tightly, under the covers, and you’re being so unreasonable! Don’t you love me?”
She wriggled enticingly, kicked out a leg, fluttered her wings under the covers, fixed Applejack with a pleading gaze in which almost all the amusement was absent—which wasn’t difficult, for even while she smiled at the spectacle of Boss cowering from flashes and noises, her heart also was wrung by Applejack’s obvious distress.
Applejack couldn’t look away—her delicious pegasus’s curves made the blanket poetry in fabric. Her body longed for the contact, but she still argued. “On top of th’ blanket. Like a big pony. Is that good?”
Rainbow Dash shook her head, with a sob. “Nuh-uh! I’m not coming out from under this blanket! Won’t you come under it with me? I’m gonna keep on wriggling until you do, no matter how long it takes. You’ve got to hold me real tight, like all night long, under the blanket where I feel safe. Please! I can’t stand it—don’t you love me?”
Applejack stared into the beseeching ruby eyes, and the corner of her mouth turned up in a smile, in spite of everything. It was such bullshit, but for such a sweet reason.
“Aw. I do. I love you so much, right now…”
“Then come on! Please?”
Applejack stepped towards the bed, and another lightning flash cast a suddenly galloping shadow on the wall as she panicked and sprinted for just a moment with a racket of clattering hooves. She got control of herself in the next moment, and bent to lift the edge of the blanket, but Dash was ahead of her—a cerulean wing made a tent of the bedcovers, and Applejack dived in, thumping against Dash’s body. She started to curl up in a ball, and then remembered—cuddled up against her lover, with forelegs wrapped around Rainbow’s body as a wing stretched under the bedcovers to stroke her flank.
Rainbow Dash felt Applejack’s heart pounding. Unseen, a look of satisfaction stole over her little face, and she let out a satisfied sigh—and then an oof, for another lightning strike had caused Applejack to clutch her desperately tight. Dash fluttered a little in startlement, but then melted into the fierce, panicky clinging, pressing back against Applejack in bliss. Soon, she heard a matching sigh behind her, and a sniffle.
Rainbow Dash closed her eyes tenderly, nuzzling the pillow, wrapped in the tight embrace of her number one lover, and smiled, thinking to herself. You could face up to even those situations that used to be so baffling—when the other person got all demanding, or acted weird and needy. If you cared, really cared, you figured out a way to take care of them anyway, even if you didn’t know what to do at first. You made the effort, because it mattered.
Being loved wasn’t so scary after all.
The fearful radiance shone from Twilight Sparkle’s eyes, and Trixie’s teacup hit the floor and shattered—but Trixie was already gone.
Gone from her place as an onlooker, a bystander… Trixie scrambled, running with a frantic clatter of hooves to intersect Twilight’s path toward the door. Mistress was not running—she walked like Doom—and so Trixie reached the door first, but did not open it. She turned, and faced Twilight, blocking her path.
Twilight’s horn glowed. Behind Trixie, the door opened. Trixie cowered a little lower, tail between her legs, but didn’t budge. The rain blew in, misting Trixie’s ass, and she was silhouetted in a lightning flash.
“Move,” said Twilight Sparkle.
The white radiance was interrupted by a blink. “I’m not sure I heard you correctly. Let’s try again. Move!”
“You mustn’t, Mistress,” said Trixie, teeth chattering. “You mustn’t!”
“Oh, really?” said Twilight. Her voice tried to be casual, but it wasn’t working. “Mustn’t what, pray tell?”
Trixie cowered lower. “Mistress… is going to hurt Rainbow Dash.”
“There’s nopony named that,” snapped Twilight.
Spike, who’d been watching from the side, spoke up. “Are you kidding? You can’t miss her! Athlete pony, does sonic rainbooms, flies into bookcases and knocks all the books off, she’s probably in town helping to move this thunderstorm, so she’s right near by…”
“Oh? Give me five minutes,” said Twilight Sparkle.
Spike fell silent, struggling to find an interpretation for that statement that still made sense coming from the Twilight he knew.
Trixie was way ahead of him. “Mistress is going to kill Rainbow Dash!”
“There is no pony named that,” repeated Twilight.
“Trixie cannot allow…”
“No, listen!” hissed Twilight, her eyes still ablaze with merciless white fire. “Ponies help each other. Ponies care about each other! Ponies love! They do not betray all those things. They do not destroy true love! There’s a thing that uses the name you said. Do not say that name again, and stand aside. I have work to do.”
“A thing that uses the name? What’re you talking about, Twilight? What kind of thing do you mean?” said Spike.
“I think it would be a nice name for a memorial crater,” said Twilight. “We can make a little sign. This is Rainbow Dash, watch your step! Even if you break an ankle, be assured, in this form Dash does much less damage than before! We could charge admission.”
Spike fell silent again, not sure what to make of Twilight’s artificially cheery tone, but Trixie saw right through it. “Mistress must not do this!”
The mask dropped, and Twilight snarled, “Get. Back.”, her voice thick with rage.
Trixie gulped. “No, Mistress.”
“Mistress will destroy everything she cares for if she does this. Trixie cannot allow Mistress to go out that door.”
“Destroy?” cried Twilight. “You want to talk destroy? How about stealing from me, being up to her same old tricks, ruining something wonderful? Trixie, he loves me! We proved that he loves me, and she’s stealing him from me! She had her chance, he fell in love with me instead, now she’s going to destroy all that? And for what? She’s gonna turn around and ruin something else. It’s all she knows how to do!”
“Um… well, yeah, but still…” said Spike. Twilight didn’t even look at him.
“I know how to stop it,” she continued. “You’re new around here, Trixie, I don’t think you quite understand the situation. Right now? You were doing real good at taking orders, let’s practice. Get out of the way! You get out of the way, or I go around you—or I’m going to go through you.”
She feinted to the right, but Trixie scrabbled to the side to block her. Twilight ducked left again, but the grovelling unicorn was too quick, and would not get out of the way. Stymied, Twilight drew herself up—concentrated—and a bolt of magic light flashed from her horn, striking Trixie, who screamed.
“Holy crap!” shouted Spike. “Trixie, are you okay? Give me a second, I’m gonna fire off a message to Princess Celestia right aw-”
“No!” screamed Trixie.
“No! It would shame Mistress! This is private! Trixie will handle this!”
She meant it. Spike’s jaw dropped. He waved a claw feebly, and dropped to sit on the floor, no longer able to cope, and the unicorns faced each other, the one pressing forward, the other cowering at bay but refusing to give up even in the face of certain doom.
“Mistress, if you will not talk about this, then you must listen. Trixie is very sorry for what she must say, but has no choice anymore. You cannot go out that door. You cannot harm the blue pegasus and expect to get your lover back…”
Twilight sent another bolt of magical energy, right by Trixie’s head, narrowly missing her ear. It seemed to be an intentional miss, like Twilight meant to scare Trixie without harming her.
Trixie didn’t budge. “Trixie has seen both of them, and they are much like each other in many ways. They are simple, if Trixie may say so. Mistress must understand that, that, that Mistress is a special pony, powerful and complex, and might not be the best match for-”
A bolt of magic struck her on the shoulder, and she squealed. Trixie drew back, baring her teeth, and her horn glowed—but not with a magic bolt. Instead, a glowing radiance formed a little dome, covering her. From under it, she continued to speak.
“Mistress should turn around, perhaps have a good cry, find out later what happened to our magic bit, if it still exists…”
That got a reaction. The light flickered, as those flaring eyes blinked again.
“She stole it!” cried Twilight. “Of course it exists! We fixed it, and she turned around and stole it!”
“But… what if we did not fix it? Trixie heard the tone in your Applejack’s voice the other night, and if you will forgive Trixie for saying so, it is possible that her love faded when she saw Mistress more clearly for what she was…”
“What?” hissed Twilight. “What did you say?”
Trixie gulped. “Mistress may just be a little too much for this Applejack…”
Twilight’s eyes seemed to flare even brighter as they narrowed, and then she fired a bolt of magic directly into Trixie’s shield. Trixie screamed, trying to maintain her focus.
“And if the dumber pegasus pony is easier for your Applejack to get along with…”
With a snarl, Twilight doubled the intensity of her magic bolt, and Trixie’s shield exploded in a shower of sparks. Twilight stepped forward, but Trixie would not move. She cowered before her doom, yet still she raged upwards at her tormentor.
“The blue pegasus is fluffy! They all are. That earth pony can’t handle you, either. What would she think if she saw you like this? You’re trying to be something you’ll never be. You will never be fluffy like that. You’re too complicated. You’ve got a dark heart. Trixie doesn’t know why, or where you got it, but you do. You have to face it or it will destroy everything you care for…”
Twilight spoke through gritted teeth. “Move. I’m going to get my bit back, for my stallion, right now.”
“Get it back? Get it back? Ha!” cried Trixie. “Trixie does not think so! Mistress, stay here, do not make this worse! You’ll never get it back, so stay where you are!”
“The next bolt of magic will stun you. Stand aside.”
“You have not used it yet, Trixie’s mind remains unstunned! Trixie can prove to you that there is no good to be done out there!”
Twilight paused. “How?”
“Mistress surely knows how to teleport? Specifically, to identify a thaumic pattern she is familiar with, locate it, tune to it?”
Twilight nodded, warily, and Trixie lifted her head.
“Then she has forgotten! Try this. Mistress has felt the arcane signature of our little toy. Seek it out, call it back here! Go on. Steal it back, then.”
Twilight’s horn glowed, and then there was another pause—a worrying pause. Twilight’s head sagged, and shook side to side, as if in disbelief. She bit her lip.
“You can’t. They have already used it. The earth pony loves the pegasus,” said Trixie.
Twilight’s head began to lift. The white fire seared from her eyes.
“The bit is gone, exploded. We never fixed it at all,” said Trixie. “It is destroyed—by true love. And that love is not for you.”
Twilight reared, crying out in wordless outrage, and her forehoof lashed out and down, smashing into Trixie’s head.
Trixie squealed, but braced herself, and still would not budge. She screamed up at Twilight, “Well, do it, then! Destroy Trixie, if you will not listen, Mistress!”
“Shut UP!” raged Twilight, hoof raised, eyes slits of searing light.
Standing in Twilight’s path, blood dripping down the side of her face, Trixie raged back, in a torrent of desperate reason. “Mistress will have to kill Trixie first because Trixie cannot bear to see the consequences of what Mistress wishes to do! Kill Trixie first so she does not have to live in the world you will bring about! You will kill the blue pegasus, she will die in the agony of magical fire, perhaps quickly, perhaps slowly—and understand this, Mistress—your Applejack loves her. Loves her! Don’t talk to Trixie about more, or less, or who loves first or who loves most—it doesn’t matter! What matters is this—Trixie feels the vengeance in you, and it will destroy everything in your world. They say you are the star pupil of Princess Celestia. They say all of Ponyville loves you. They don’t imagine you like this, they don’t understand the price of your power.”
Spike watched in horror. Twilight wavered, on the brink of smashing Trixie’s head with her hoof again, or frying her to ash with magic. Twilight’s eyes were burning so intensely that they couldn’t be looked at directly. Trixie squinted, trying to meet that gaze anyhow, and ranted on to save her Mistress and that Mistress’s world.
“Trixie knows how it feels. Trixie watched her love walk away from her, years ago, and wanted to destroy everything, just like Mistress. Trixie felt the rage making her powerful, just like Mistress! But Trixie knew she was a monster, and she didn’t do it! She did not lie to herself that she had justice to dispense! She had nothing but despair and the knowledge of what she was! And she survived somehow, even when everything in her world withered and rotted from the inside, even when the cold blew through her empty soul and the darkness pulled her down and down into a despair very nearly as bad as she deserved. Trixie did NOT use her magical gifts to punish and destroy!”
Twilight’s body was shaking now, and the light from her eyes had gone beyond the bearable, forcing Trixie to squeeze hers shut and rave her last effort at the intolerable glare coming from where Mistress stood.
“If Mistress thinks her sweet earth pony will love her again after Mistress murders her rival—Understand, Mistress! She… will… NOT!”
The light cut off.
Trixie opened her eyes. Twilight’s were squeezed shut, and her body was rigid, too tense, her face scrunched in agony. The hoof she’d been holding in the air, ready to smash into Trixie’s head, still hung there. Trixie watched, frozen, as that hoof, the blow intended for her, drew back.
It slowly withdrew from its upraised position, gradually dropped in tense slow motion, and both Trixie and Spike watched silently as Twilight’s hoof—with its little smear of Trixie’s blood on the edge—lowered, and finally came to rest against the floor.
Inside her head, behind the tight-shut eyes, event after event added up to an answer that could not be escaped any longer—a whole series of answers, one after another, that built up into the shape of a world that had suddenly become real. A world with a big empty space, where the central foundation of love had been. A world that could not stand without that foundation. A world… that fell, breaking apart, into wreckage, second by second.
And the worst thing, the very worst thing… was the monster she had become.
Twilight’s face twisted, and she screamed.
It was a dreadful sound. Twilight Sparkle screamed in anguish as if her heart was literally being torn out of her, and Trixie watched, struck dumb, not knowing if her Mistress was going to turn and sear her and Spike and the whole place to ash at the next moment.
Twilight’s head lifted towards where Trixie lay, and when her eyes opened again, they opened as violet unicorn eyes, drenched with tears, and she could only look at Trixie and scream again, the pain of the truth too great to endure—and then Trixie was with her, hugging her as she shook. Twilight staggered and began to topple, no longer able even to stand up, and Trixie’s magic kicked in, lowering Mistress gently to the ground where Trixie joined her, cuddling her desperately.
“Trixie is sorry! Trixie is so, so sorry! But she had to, just had to!”
Twilight bawled, gut-wracking sobs, barely able to breathe through the weeping, and Trixie clung to her, crying harder and harder as well, knowing how little she could do.
“Is she gonna be okay?” stammered Spike, hanging back nervously and trying to process it all.
“Someday…” managed Trixie.
This only provoked another storm of weeping and head-shaking from Twilight, and Trixie returned to just holding her, attempting no more words. The words had worked, the words had saved Twilight’s world, but they’d torn her apart doing it and Trixie wished no more of them. Mercy would have to be a thing of touch, not words.
Time didn’t really pass. It hung over their heads, as the wind and rain blew in through the door, unheeded. Spike eventually crept over and closed it. Then, he went off, returned with a towel, and quietly wiped up the rainwater from the floor, right up to where Twilight lay in sobbing misery with Trixie holding her. His sensitive dragon nose was flooded with the scent of wet pony, combined with cold sweat, stress, and the mysterious, unmistakable smell of despair—Twilight’s despair.
Spike had never smelled that on her before—the closest analogy had been the thing with Discord, and he’d been distracted by coughing up all the scrolls in the world, at the time. This was worse. He found himself hoping that Trixie was doing her some good, because he felt out of his depth. The whole kinky-pony thing had been like a bad dream, and this turned it into a real nightmare. The image of Twilight standing before the door, ready to go out and take revenge, was an image that would stay with him for a long time.
If that was what being grown up meant, he was glad he didn’t have to deal with it.
Trixie clung to her weeping Mistress, limp with reaction after her ordeal, still thinking—for she couldn’t shut it off. Neither could Twilight, obviously. Mistress was a dark star, another beautiful monster, and Trixie shuddered with gratitude that she’d been able to prevail. Mistress was so powerful, so romantic—Mistress so effortlessly dominated her and had confined her and reduced her to quivering submission, yet Mistress combined that dominance with the softest heart. Trixie saw both power and tenderness there, yet with Applejack both things had gone so wrong—the power had manipulated somepony who took no pleasure in it, the tenderness had led to Twilight fooling herself, and then led to the brink of terrible acts trying to defend that tenderness from the harm of facing reality.
It was no wonder, thought Trixie, that they’d not succeeded in creating a bit that didn’t self-destruct—Twilight’s own love had self-destructed, and Trixie’s world had been a raging path of self-destruction for years and years. Lying on the floor, holding Twilight, Trixie could face that fact at last. It had seemed like just the shape of the world, while she walked that path, but having stepped off it, everything seemed different.
Trixie’s heart went out, more deeply than she’d ever felt it. She thought of Aftershock, and it seemed like a foalish infatuation, an insult to the name of love—she’d given her heart to a seeming goddess who was able to fill her with the sense of being commanded and mastered, and she hadn’t looked deeper, the feeling alone sufficed. She’d been betrayed by the discovery that Aftershock felt no bond in return—or at least that it had not survived some bad experiences. Aftershock could not rise above her nature. When driven off her familiar ways, when challenged in return, she turned hostile and unforgiving, and had cast Trixie out.
Twilight had been just as commanding, just as passionate or more, but when she in turn had been betrayed by reality, she’d fought like a demon but had eventually given in. She’d accepted, where Aftershock had destroyed her world rather than face reality. And just as Trixie had endured the loss without lashing out through her magic, Twilight had endured hers without lashing out through her magic… much.
Trixie wondered if Twilight could be healed—for she felt herself healed just through being with her beautiful dark star, her exquisite many-sided Mistress. Perhaps if they were both in some way healed, they’d be able to really produce a magic bit that didn’t have to explode or enslave—one that was right.
It would be nice. Life was tough enough without some breaks for intense pleasure.
Twilight had quieted. Trixie wasn’t sure how much time had passed. Spike had gone to bed, after giving her a wordless pat on the shoulder while she held Twilight. It wasn’t dawn, but it had surely been hours. She didn’t care. Nothing mattered but Mistress. Trixie moved over, so she could see Twilight’s face.
Twilight’s eyes were open, but it was no fun to look into them. They were the eyes of a pony who understood everything she’d done or meant to do, and who knew it had been hopeless and futile.
Twilight kept staring into some private hell, without a word. It was impossible to tell if she was thinking of Applejack and her love for Dash—or if she was simply thinking of herself and what she had done.
“Mistress? Trixie wishes to know if there is-”
Twilight coughed weakly.
“Twilight wishes she was dead,” said Twilight, and her voice was dull and flat, as if dead already.
Trixie’s eyes filled with tears—she’d used the mannerism Trixie had always used, but from her it sounded like, ‘please let me not be a person, I’ve failed at that. I’ve failed at life, please let me go’. She leaned in, giving Twilight a little kiss on the nose, and she spoke very gently.
“I love you,” Trixie said. “Please stay. I’m sorry it hurts.”
For a long time, Twilight Sparkle lay there, unresponding.
Then, she gave a little nod, and Trixie teared up again, and cuddled up to her, warming her and giving what comfort she could, heedless of the hard uncomfortable floor. Twilight wasn’t budging from it, and neither would she. She would remain, even lying on a hard floor in front of the door.
Eventually, they slept.