Off With Her Head!

Lyra’s hooves pounded the road in a desperate, mad clattering, her nerves accelerating her pace every minute. What if she was too late? That would be a terrible irony, if she of all ponies couldn’t make it in time. It wasn’t for nothing that she’d won Running of the Leaves three times in a row. She was young, toned and healthy, and her tendency toward nervous energy had always translated to the most natural activity for a pony: to run.

Now, she ran for her life—or, more accurately, for Applejack’s life. Her flanks sweated, her breath frothed, and yet she goaded herself on, barely clinging to the wadded-up bedsheet in her magical grasp. Briefly, she fretted that once she got to the royal castle, she’d reek so much that the bedsheet would be useless. Sweat dripped into her eyes, and she redoubled her efforts, delicate green nostrils flaring as she fought for breath and galloped madly along.

The guards at the castle gates stood aside, wordlessly. Lyra had never dared ask what Princess Luna had given them by way of explanation. It must have been quite some explanation, for Lyra half expected them to come to her aid, yet they fairly leapt out of her path and asked nothing of her. She briefly pictured Luna saying, “Let the cute little crazy unicorn pony do anything she wishes, or answer to us—and thou dost not wish to answer to us!” and dismissed the notion without breaking her stride.

Oddly, she’d got the word ‘crazy’ wrong (Princess Luna had said ‘green’) but was otherwise spot-on.

The castle hallways swirled around her as she sprinted, hooves slipping as she skidded around corners. Up some stairs, down another corridor—some way ahead, she heard her beloved’s voice raised in peremptory command. “Who comes? What fool gallops within our peaceful palace?”

Lyra put her head down and threw everything she had into the last stretch, imagining Applejack silently expiring mere moments before she arrived.

Luna leapt to her hooves, her wings flaring out with a weighty pomf as her little unicorn ran into the room. She stared at Lyra, her mouth agape, her eyes horrified.

Lyra pulled up, looking around only to see Applejack lying there still motionless on the bed, where she’d been placed after the suture cantrips were complete… and with a squeak of final effort, Lyra marshalled her magic forces and flung the bedsheet towards the stricken earth pony. She stared wildly at nothing, triumphant as the sheet fluttered to the floor midway between them, and then Lyra’s eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed, her tottering limbs all giving way at once.

Princess Luna gasped and rushed forward, balancing with strong wingbeats while she grabbed up her little pony lover and cradled her in deep-blue forelegs. She pulled back Lyra’s eyelid with deft alicorn magic and began to check for life signs, but there was no mistaking Lyra’s condition: far from being dead, Luna could just about hear her loving heart pounding from across the room. Lyra drew woeful, rasping breaths, and her body was so hot it reminded Luna of intimate moments. Luna stared down at her beloved, and then her gaze slipped away to register Lyra’s prize.

The princess’s eyes filled with tears. “Ah! Thou art so ineffably sweet, little pony. That we doubted you, that we feared your prejudice! You did not need to hurry so, dear one. Ah! Lyra, creature of such great love, not least toward your earth pony friend! She cannot see how faithfully you brought forth her own blanket… er, make that bedsheet, for some reason.”

Luna snuggled Lyra closer. Her sweet unicorn was limp as a rag, plainly exhausted, not even waking when cuddled and kissed.

“Methinks our mint-green lovely was confused? And it is not cold in here, dear one, certainly not so cold as to warrant the frantic bringing of quilts! Ah! Lyra! Let us settle you, and then attend to your kind gift.”

As Princess Luna nestled Lyra into an open spot on the massive bed, clear of Applejack’s still form, Lyra stirred and mewled, struggling.

“Peace,” said Princess Luna. Her hoof stroked Lyra’s fretful head. Her horn glowed, issuing forth soothing waves, softening Lyra’s awareness. “Peace, and rest.”

With a gasp and a flutter of her eyelids, Lyra passed out again, and soon began to snore, Luna watching attentively.

After a while, Princess Luna glanced over at the small lump of wadded cloth.

She drew a breath. “Maidservan…” she began, but the word that had begun as a clear command directed toward a goal of laundering, trailed off as she glanced at Lyra again. Her unicorn lay stricken, as motionless as her earth pony friend, but far from comatose: indeed, in glorious and rather sexy health and vigor. She was only exhausted from a deeply touching marathon sprint, and could awaken at any point.

If she did, and she didn’t see that bedsheet in place comforting Applejack, she’d doubtless be terribly hurt.

Princess Luna rose, and her horn glowed. She lifted and unfolded the bedsheet. Where had Lyra gotten it, anyhow? It smelled quite pegasus-y. Luna wrinkled her nose delicately, but with no great distaste. In truth, it reminded her of the tale she’d told Lyra. Should she ever mate with Lyra and allow herself to be weakened and impregnated through Lyra’s horn discharge, she’d very likely need plenty of pegasi for her wings, and it’d probably smell even worse. And perhaps Applejack liked it—she did have a foal with Rainbow Dash, after all, and this was probably Dash’s inimitable athlete’s stink.

And so, Princess Luna draped Applejack decorously in the bedsheet, tucking her in warm and snug, and returned to Lyra’s side, where she stroked that elegant, luminous green body with a tender hoof and marveled at the miracle of sentimentality and tolerance. Truly, Lyra had overcome her prejudices against earth ponies. All would be well. Luna bent, tears in her eyes, and kissed the sweet, foal-like nub of Lyra’s barely-regrown horn.

Behind her, unseen, Applejack’s ear flicked a tiny amount.

Luna’s eyes were closed as she meditated on her beloved, and her pause was the pause of the immortal and timeless. She had nothing better to do than to lie with her very own mortal unicorn pony and bask in her endearing, fragile, wondrous presence, and she did so, entranced.

The bedsheet was draping Applejack’s forelegs, while her head lay softly on a pillow, hat placed at a respectful distance but available at need. Applejack’s nostril twitched. Her legs had been laid out in such a way to resemble a neck-stretched sprawl: Princess Celestia had been feeling her pulse by delicately nuzzling her throat. Nopony had rearranged Applejack’s legs, and now they were not only in a slightly unnatural position, but covered in several folds of bedsheet.

Applejack drew her foreleg up into a more comfortable position, unthinkingly. The folds of bedsheet came along with it. Scent was released as the fabric got dragged up next to Applejack’s face.

Princess Luna’s ears perked straight up. She’d just heard a faint sound from behind her, and a snuffling. And then, half a word!

“Rainb…”

Luna’s head whipped around, and her eyes flooded with tears again. Applejack was stirring, dazed, that poor mistreated orange body moving under its own volition.

Quickly, delicately, silently, Princess Luna moved across the bed to join her. Her delicacy was sufficient: Lyra did not wake.

“Wh…”

“Shh,” soothed Princess Luna. “You’re safe now. You’ve been terribly hurt, dear Applejack, but here you are safe and protected.”

Applejack sniffed, a confused look on her face. “…Rainbow?”

“We’ll bring her for you. She will be so pleased that you are well! We promise that she will join you as soon as she can. Pray lie quietly, you are still healing…”

“B… Big Macintosh!” managed Applejack, trying to rise. She winced, her eyes rolling back in her head, and sagged again. “Aw, horseapples…”

Luna’s eyes went wide. “Oh. Oh, my. Applejack, your family believed they had lost both you and your brother. They fear he has been attacked, perhaps by the same creature that attacked you?”

Applejack blinked, then snorted. “Whut? Like hell! Big Macintosh run off with Braeburn! Ah gotta go out Appleloosa way, bring him back.” She tried to rise again, screwing up her face against the obvious pain this caused.

“Nay! Cease! Applejack!” said Princess Luna. “Desist! You must lay still. You will heal quickly from our cantrips, but for now, do not rise! We shall fetch him.”

Applejack looked up at Luna. “Ya will?”

“Indeed. Immediately. Is he in danger, Applejack? Shall we fly in haste to fetch him here this instant?”

Applejack considered this, through a haze of pain and grogginess. The corner of her mouth turned up. “Uh… naw. Shucks. Pore thing! Ya know we got to, all Ponyville depends on th’ Apples bein’ the foundation, but all the same, takin’ him away from Braeburn? It’s a shame. We ain’t deserved our Big Macintosh lately.” She shook her head. “An’ yet there ain’t no way around it. Horseapples. Uh, beggin’ yer pardon!”

“Please, calm yourself, dear Applejack,” said Princess Luna. “Your lapse is forgiven—provided you rest and heal! Have we an agreement?”

Applejack was looking around. “Hey! Ain’t that Lyra? She looks plumb tuckered out, what’s she been doin’?” Her eyes widened in dismay. “Dang! Almost forgot. I bet she’s… uh, I mean you and she… Ain’t said nothin’! No ma’am! Lyra looks jes’ fine, well satisfied… uh, Ah mean, rested!”

Luna, head held high, looked down upon Applejack, whose lip began to quiver. Then, before the hapless earth mare could die more than a few hundred deaths, Luna betrayed the hint of a smirk, which grew until she was snorting with royal amusement.

“Indeed, fair Applejack. But you misjudge her. We should say thou hast insulted her, if it could be said that such devoted attention to the royal person were insult! Thou dost not suggest this, surely? That the good unicorn is… degraded, by pursuance of her happy duty?”

Applejack blushed scarlet. “Aw, shucks! Naw, I ain’t suggesting nothin’, Ah swear it! Ain’t degradin’ a-tall, why, if it were me, I’m sure I’d jes’ have lots of fun divin’ between yer sweet…” Applejack went from red to pale, and her ears went back like she’d received an electric shock as she caught herself. “Uhhh… Ah declines ta answer on the grounds of what the HELL am I sayin’?”

At this, Princess Luna laughed openly. She nuzzled Applejack’s face until the country pony would look up at her, which took some time. “Be not distressed, fair Applejack. Indeed, young Lyra may take many liberties, yet we are teasing thee, nothing more. It is not wantonness that has brought Lyra to this pass.”

Applejack blinked, reassured. “Then, whut?”

“An errand of mercy. She ran to fetch you this sheet, to comfort you in your travail.”

That got another blink. “Ain’t no travail, this here’s a bed. Hang on! Ah smelled Rainbow Dash, somehow! Ya think…?”

Both her eyes and Luna’s turned toward the bedsheet that still covered Applejack. They sniffed the air. Applejack began to beam with delight.

“Aw, yeah! Ah did smell my Dashie! Ah would go to death an’ through it an’ back for my Dashie! You know what this Lyra’s done? She knew! She done it on purpose, did young Lyra!”

Luna’s jaw dangled in awe. “Miraculous little unicorn! Oh, she has done well! Why did we not think of it? Gad, what a benevolent stench!”

Applejack snorted. “Yeah. Ain’t the freshest! Ah been too troubled to do th’ laundry, and o’ course Dashie, even in the best of times she ain’t prop’ly domestic or nothin’. Granny expects it from her anyhoof. I try to help her at least make an effort. Been slackin’. Dang.” She frowned. “Yeah. It’s a mighty burden. Ah guess I got to pick it up again?”

Princess Luna blinked. “To what do you refer, fair Applejack? What burden is this?”

“Aw, jes… everythin’,” said Applejack, and sighed. “Don’t tell anypony, but it’d be nice to just stay right here and not have ta leave. Don’t worry, I’ll be outta your mane in a jiffy! Ah will resume my duties as boss mare. It ain’t so bad.” She stared into space, bleakly. “Ah reckon it ain’t much compared to what you do, Princess.”

“Do you wish to stay here?” asked Luna, gently. “To rest, and heal?”

Applejack’s voice was soft, fillyish. “Kin I? For a lil’ bit longer?”

Luna lifted her chin, and gazed down authoritatively. “WE DECREE IT,” she boomed.

At that point, two pony faces were transformed with emotion.

Applejack’s face lit up with relief and gratitude. Tears came to her eyes at the thought of respite from wrestling with the family, literally fighting Granny, dealing with Rainbow and Apple Bloom and little Spy, tearing Big Macintosh from his doomed relationship with a known slutpony who probably cared nothing for him, brazening it out against a Ponyville that had to see a strong Apple boss mare… Applejack wept, openly, at the offer of refuge.

At the same time, Lyra woke. She blinked blearily at the Princess and at Applejack, and then her eyes widened, as she remembered.

“Applejack!” she wailed, clambering awkwardly across the bed with cramped, wearied limbs.

“Yes!” said Luna. “Is it not wonderful? Your clever plan worked, my sweet Lyra! We are so proud!”

Lyra ignored her, and the Princess’s smile wavered and dropped. The unicorn was still frantic, still desperate. “Applejack! It’s Gilda, they’ve got Gilda!”

Applejack froze. “Whut? Who got what now?”

“They think Gilda did this to you!” cried Lyra. “They might hurt her, I think! The whole town’s in an uproar!”

Luna gasped. Applejack went white with shock. She stared into Lyra’s anxious, wide eyes for a moment, and then she spoke.

“Gimme mah hat,” she snarled, and her jaw was set.

Lyra’s horn glowed, and then it was joined by Princess Luna’s. The two of them seized Applejack’s hat, and planted it on her head, and waited.

“Princess? Ah reckon one more pony liberty won’t hurt ya none. Giddyup!”

“We… do not understand?”

Applejack’s mouth smiled, a little. Her eyes were grim. “I’mma ride you back to Ponyville, on account of I cain’t run for it. Get up now! Maybe it ain’t th’ nicest way to have an earth pony on your back but we are goin’ for a ride!”

Luna’s eyes widened, and then she’d whirled and was standing, her tail flicking, facing her balcony. Applejack heaved herself up into a standing position, jumped, and mounted her, not just covering her but scooting forward on her abused belly until she straddled Luna’s back, fore and hind legs wrapped around her Princess.

“OWWWW! That bucking hurt!” she yelled, gritted her teeth, and thumped Luna’s sides with her rear hooves. “Hyah! Git on!”

Luna gave one great bound, and the two took the air, racing toward Ponyville.

Behind them, Lyra stared, utterly stunned. Her jaw dangled in horror and amazement. Her eyes were wide as dinner plates. Tears glimmered at the corners that weren’t sure if they were tears of outrage, insult, arousal, or just plain awesome. Lyra’s mind spun, taking in what had just happened.

She shook herself, whinnied sharply, and began to charge out of the castle and follow them by the road. Halfway down the first hallway, she winced and switched to a determined trot.

They would be fine, but Celestia help whoever got in their way!


“Please, Mistress! Trixie thinks you should go to bed, stop digging up ceremonial things!”

Twilight Sparkle sighed in frustration. “No! We have to do this right. Princess Celestia is going to be here, I’m sure of it. She has to understand that Ponyville can take care of itself. We’re a society, not a… a nursery! Or a magic kindergarten!”

Trixie’s eyes narrowed. “Still on the magic kindergarten? It’s always the magic kindergarten with you, Mistress.”

Twilight stomped a hoof. “It made a big impression, okay? Now help me decide where we should display the Elements. They’re kept in this book, but I want them out and visible as a sign of our authority to do this, and I want them shiny. Polish them, Trixie! And no pretend rebellion, I really mean it. I’ll punish you later if you’re good, for now polish these things, okay?”

Trixie sulked, her horn glowing steadily. “Trixie may not be in a pretend rebellion…”

“D… do you really think Applejack is dead?” croaked Gilda, feebly.

Trixie glared over at her. Gilda lay in the corner, in despair and also in a cage of force that Trixie was generating. She hadn’t spoken since Twilight and Trixie had driven all the townsponies out of Twilight’s house.

Twilight glanced sharply over as well. “Ah! Gilda, I’ve been doing some reading. I think I should caution you that you don’t have to say anything that might incriminate you. Actually, if you ask me, what Rarity had to say incriminated you just fine and I doubt there’s much to add. You could be bullshitting us, so save your breath. Or I can get out the truth spell again if you want. Are you gonna be able to tell it you didn’t kill Applejack?”

Gilda twitched miserably, but didn’t speak.

“We’re doing this by the book,” said Twilight. “I think that’s probably better for you. We’ll have a real trial, and introduce the sheet th… that was drenched in Applejack’s blood, as evidence.” She hesitated, and then added, “If you did kill Applejack, you need to be really grateful that we’re doing it by the book. When I get upset I can do this magical fire thing. I think it’s probably a very painful way to die. In fact, how about you go back to being quiet again?”

Twilight was trembling. Trixie saw it, trotted over and hugged her tightly, without wavering in her casting of Gilda’s magical prison. “Easy, Mistress,” she said, bracingly.

“Right,” said Twilight. She shook herself. “Polish these Elements, and set them up on that shelf there please. I’ve got to look up ancient Canterlot records. Ponies around here don’t go around soaking bedsheets in each others’ blood very much.” Her face twisted in anguish, and then she controlled her feelings and trotted off toward another bookshelf. “But there are historical precedents.”

“I loved her,” muttered Gilda.

Twilight’s mouth was a hard line, and her ears were back. “There are historical precedents for THAT, too. I strongly suggest you be quiet, Gilda Griffin.”

A shadow passed across the window. Trixie glanced at it. The townsponies were restless, still milling about. She returned her attention to her captive.


Rarity and Derpy trotted into town, chatting animatedly.

“I don’t think you should of done it, Rarity. I don’t understand!”

Rarity hmphed, slamming her hooves down with angry assertiveness. “Oh, nonsense. It didn’t do him a bit of harm! He got off lightly. That stallion was no gentleman!”

“But what did he do?” pleaded Derpy.

Rarity turned, to stare at her. “You can’t be serious, darling. Were we seeing the same oaf? I suggested he take a minute to chat up my charming companion, and he said… he said…”

Derpy blinked, and her eyes swapped cockeyed focal points. “He said,” she began, and her voice took on a distinctly oafish tone, “Well let me ask you this, do you have any whores that are less retarded?”

Rarity squeaked in outrage. “So you did hear every word! Then you surely must understand why he needed a pie in the face, even at the cost of my own dignity!”

“They threw us out,” complained Derpy, “and you wouldn’t stop yelling and kicking them even when I asked!”

“But don’t you understand how hideously insulting that wretched mule was to you?”

Derpy blinked again. “He wasn’t a mule, Rarity! He was a pony like us. Except he was a dumb-head meanie. Haven’t you ever seen those before, Rarity?”

That stopped the formerly elegant, but now seething and disheveled unicorn. “Let me get this straight, Derpy darling. You are aware that stallion sneered at you and treated you with contempt, then. Do you even care?”

“No,” said Derpy decidedly. “Lots of ponies are more cleverer than me, Rarity. And lots of ponies are nice good ponies. But sometimes the cleverest ones are mean stupid-heads.” She hesitated, and then began to frown. “Even some of the most wonderful, super smart ones… like Dusk S… oh phooey!”

Rarity’s lip quivered. “Oh, Derpy! You really are such a good pony. And of course you’re right, it’s a mercy you’re seeing it now. I’m terribly worried that poor Twilight will never get past her hasty assumptions about you, though it is rather her loss, the foolish creature. My, yes. Courage, darling! We shall go out again, and again, until we find a pony worthy of you!”

Derpy hopped and squeed. “Yay!” she cried, but then she hesitated, looking down the road. “Rarity? Why are a bunch of ponies marching toward us?”

“Oh, heavens!” gasped Rarity. “They’ve come for me. I shall resist! I defy you!” she cried, at the approaching figures.

“No they haven’t,” said Derpy. “They’re the ponies we know, the ones that live here in Ponyville.”

They were, indeed, but Rarity quickly realised that they seemed different. Granny Smith and Fluttershy led them, though Fluttershy was flanked by an expostulating Pinkie Pie and a capering Rock Candy. They marched, leading a large, silent horde of walking ponies, towards Twilight Sparkle’s house.

Granny arthritically reared and banged the door with her forehooves. “Open up!” she whinnied.

The door opened. Trixie peered out, glowering. “Stop that! Twilight is reading archaic court records! What do you want?”

Granny glared back, twice as bad. “Turn the killer griffin over! She’s pret-near kilt two of my grandchildren, won’t be killin’ again!”

Derpy Hooves gasped, and Rarity winced and muttered, “Oh my. This is not good, darling.”

“How can she say that? Things like that can’t happen!” squeaked Derpy, and began squeezing through the crowd, apparently to argue with Granny. Her face was a mask of dismay rendered more piteous by the big stunned-looking eyes, but her mouth was determination drawn in a single grim line. The proposition clearly offended Derpy to the core.

Rarity moaned, and set after her, glancing around with alarm at the once-familiar townsponies. The tone of the gathering reminded her of some very lively nights spent in Fillydelphia behind locked doors, and to see that emotional tone echoed in the streets of Ponyville was deeply disturbing. It felt like the whole world was out of joint, toppling to destruction. She could feel the panic and fury, and Rarity knew better than anypony what secrets lurked in the hearts around her.

“Come away, Derpy!” she begged. “Let us not be here! It is a throwback to the terrible days of windigoes and savagery!”

Derpy wasn’t listening. She confronted Granny, as Trixie blocked the door. “You shouldn’t say stuff like that, Granny Smith! It’s mean, Granny Smith!”

“Hold your peace, you consarned fool pegasus!” retorted Granny Smith. “Why, that pony right next to you proved it! That griffin soaked a sheet in my grandfilly’s blood and you will not stand in mah way if you know what’s best for ye!”

“But,” protested Rarity, “must you? I mean, yes, it’s horrible, but there must be some explanation! If Applejack were here…”

Granny spat, in contempt. “I saw my poor little Applejack, lyin’ there with her hat off an’ hardly breathin’ and you are not going to wait for her to come back and say yeah, that griffin done it! If Princess Celestia weren’t able to bring her back by now, my grandchild’s gonna join her brother an’ I am DONE with watchin’ that creature lay waste to mah family! Git out of the way!”

“But if she didn’t do it?” cried Rarity.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you!” wailed Pinkie, from somewhere in the crowd.

Granny Smith gritted her teeth, and glared from under lowered brows. She spoke, at first quietly.

“How old are you, child? Do you remember the early days of Ponyville? Do you remember the days before Ponyville? Before our kind civilized the land and made it safe for the colts and fillies? I’m old, lil’ miss Rarity, dang old. Ah have seen things you ain’t. Ah have seen the sight of a pony torn limb from limb by ravenous griffins. They tear you up but they don’t kill ya right off, but they’ll start eatin’ ya anyhow, jes’ so long as you cain’t get away…”

Rarity gulped. Behind her, the townsponies began to shove and panic. Granny’s voice built and built.

“Ah have seen the wounds torn by the deadly griffin claws an’ talons, rendin’ pony flesh and spillin’ blood, an’ I have seen th’ half-eaten corpses from when we drove th’ bastards away from their kills, AN’ I have seen them wounds AGAIN up close and personal, showin’ through even after the Princess did her best, and I am TELLING you this Gilda Griffin TORE APART MY BABY with her cruel sharp claws and you gone GIT OUTTA MAH WAY…”

Granny was shaking with rage, confronting Derpy who cowered, whimpering. Rarity began to move to shelter Derpy, meeting Granny’s stare with the only other stare present that could be that fierce and dominant, and then behind the crowd she heard a scream.

“No, y’all get outta MY way!”

Over the tops of the milling, enraged ponies came a small filly, with a big pink bow in her red hair that had come mostly undone. She paid it no mind at all, she just jumped on pony backs and heads until she came to the front, and she shoved her face right into Granny’s and yelled, “You’re WRONG!”

“Shut up, chile! I ain’t wrong! I saw what I saw, I know what I know!”

“And I know what I know, and Gilda didn’t do it!” yelled Apple Bloom. “You’re letting the real criminal go, how many times do I have to say it?”

There was a motion behind Trixie. Twilight Sparkle’s head peered out her door. “What’s going on here? You all, go back to your homes!”

“Won’t!” snarled Granny. “Turn over that griffin, young lady!”

“Don’t do it!” squealed Apple Bloom. “She’s innocent!”

Granny butted heads with Apple Bloom, who wouldn’t budge, and shouted, “Your brother’s DAID! Your sister’s GONNA be daid soon! How can you stand there and…”

“The hell Ah am!” came a familiar voice from above.

Applejack wouldn’t wait for Princess Luna to land. She saw her Granny and her little sister fighting at the center of a vast crowd of angry ponies, and she flung herself from Luna’s back impetuously, misjudged her step, and slammed to the ground, letting out a scream of agony but fighting her way to her feet again.

“Applejack!” wailed Princess Luna. “We worked so hard to heal you!”

Applejack wouldn’t listen, either. She regained her hooves, shaking and grimacing with pain. She stalked forward, jaw set, and stumbled, for she was nearly passing out. The herd of ponies drew back in horror to let her pass. She made it up to Granny and Apple Bloom, and she demanded, “What the hay is goin’ on here?”

There was a commotion inside Twilight’s house, and Trixie glanced over her shoulder grumpily and shifted her cage of force. Gilda, scrambling forward as best she could, made it up to the door and stared out desperately at first Applejack, and then at a massive crowd of ponies whose eyes impaled her with hatred.

“You see that? You see?” accused Granny Smith, and indeed the ponies could see the jagged scar. There were gagging noises. It wasn’t gory in the least, but after Granny’s soliloquy, every pony could see the scar and imagine claws tearing into their beloved Applejack. They could see the agony she was still in, and they held their breath, their tension escalating unbearably, watching, listening.

“Tell them it ain’t so!” cried Apple Bloom.

“Tell the truth!” snarled Granny Smith.

“Truth?” blinked Twilight. “You asked for it!”

She concentrated, and the familiar glowing sphere appeared, reflected in the too-wide, unblinking eyes of countless townsponies, and Twilight’s voice rang out with authority.

“Let’s sort this out right now! Applejack, we can all see your terrible injuries. Before ponies do things they might regret—this is a truth spell, everypony, pay attention! Applejack, did Gilda do this to you?”

Applejack looked startled.

“Well, yeah,” she blurted, “but…”

The truth spell went ‘Ting!’ in the expectant silence.

The crowd exploded.

Derpy Hooves screamed. She was caught between the library, and the charging pony crowd. They’d gone totally crazy, worked up to hysteria and set off by the truth spell’s confirmation of Granny’s terrible story, and rather than flee, more than half the crowd charged the door as if they were trapped with the deadly griffin and only immediate violence would save them. Derpy went down under a storm of trampling bodies.

Rarity shrieked, and dove without hesitation directly under the falling hooves. She physically interposed herself, yowling in pain as hooves trampled her head, her horn, her body, but she provided a pony shield for Derpy all the same. Rarity kicked out with a free foreleg, but soon had to devote all her efforts to sheltering Derpy, for the crowd was piling up on top of both of them. Derpy whimpered, feeling blood from her protector trickle onto her face as the stampeding ponies pummeled and trampled them both.

Fluttershy wasn’t among that crowd. She’d been caught up in the reaction, and she’d reared with her wings flared and begun to charge with the others, but two things stopped her. One was Pinkie, weeping and trying to wrestle her aside. Fluttershy was almost prepared to push Pinkie away and attack, but the second thing rocked her beyond expectations.

Rock, her colt, had her by the tail. He was pulling her back, and he looked very serious. She glanced back at him, did a double-take, looked again at Applejack, and her eyes went wide.

Applejack was very much alive. She’d just admitted that Gilda had done these terrible things… but she looked miserable, horrified at the mob’s actions. Fluttershy saw Applejack, face contorted in agony, shove past the horde of attacking ponies to try and get into the library, to try and get to Gilda Griffon. Fluttershy saw the expression on Gilda’s face as she struggled to reach Applejack…

“Let me through!” begged Applejack, helplessly. Gilda disappeared from sight, Trixie’s magic forcing her back into the library, her eyes locked with Applejack’s until the last moment. They’d looked on each other like lovers dragged apart across a battlefield. Fluttershy watched it all, heard Gilda’s squawk of dismay and Applejack’s scream, “Gilda!” in response. It was not accusation, it was a heartfelt cry of anguish.

Fluttershy’s mind began to crumble, as the story she’d built fractured, and revealed an unexplained but undeniable reality underneath—one that spoke in emotions and expressions, one that told her how horribly wrong she’d been.

She began to totter backwards, pulled by Rock, and then pushed by her mate Pinkie away from the stampeding ponies, and she didn’t resist them any more—and every second, her eyes grew more haunted and guilty.

As Fluttershy staggered backwards out of the fight, Twilight Sparkle raged in her doorway, Trixie beside her. Over them, Princess Luna flew, but her presence wasn’t calming anypony—they’d long been wary of her, too, and her presence seemed to only alarm the furious ponies more.

“Stop it!” squealed Twilight, her ears back. “You’re trying to lynch Gilda! I don’t believe that is your destiny! Now maybe we can’t have a nice trial like I was preparing for, but that doesn’t mean we can do this your way! We have to come together on this and work out something that will satisfy everypony! The spirit of friendship demands that you listen to each other and not just run with your hotheaded assumption! We have to do this the proper way! WILL YOU… errrh! Fine, we’ll do it the hard way, I’ll magic some sense into you! Celestia’s gonna kill me… how do I even phrase this?”

Twilight’s horn lit like a beacon. Luna gasped at the sudden surge of magic around them. Inside the library, the Elements of Harmony began to glow, and floated into the air.

Twilight screwed her face up in concentration and incanted loudly and desperately to the crowd, casting her spell of unity with every shred of magic she could summon…

“From all of us together, together we are friends: with the marks of our destinies made one, there is magic without end!”

A bolt of lightning speared out from inside the library, where the Elements of Harmony floated. It incinerated Twilight in a single blinding flash of light. She was gone. Not only that, Princess Luna had also vanished at the same moment.

Trixie screamed. Applejack fought her way forward, kicking at the crowd despite her physical agony, uncovering a trampled and bloody Rarity and an unharmed but stunned Derpy Hooves. Gilda, freed of her magic prison by the lapse of Trixie’s attention, scrambled forward to meet Applejack at the door, and seized her in a hysterical, sobbing embrace. Applejack disappeared into the library with a wail of pain and dismay, and then was lost to sight.

Trixie Lulamoon stood between the stunned crowd, and Twilight’s library, alone. She blinked, as Rarity dragged Derpy frantically to safety away from the scene. She gulped, looking around, wondering where her Mistress had gone. It had looked like a massive discharge of magic: a teleport, or a jump between planes. Twilight was gone, but could well be alive somewhere.

She glanced behind her, and saw what the crowd could not see: Gilda and Applejack clinging to each other for dear life. Her ear twitched, and then she heard a movement.

Trixie looked back around, and the herd of ponies was pressing forward, eyes crazed and filled with vengeance. Somewhere behind them, she heard a pathetic cry, “Um, maybe we have all sort of done a very bad and wrong thing!” and a squeal of rage, “You won’t listen! Why won’t you listen?” The herd paid no attention. They’d seen one of their own injured, they knew who’d done it, and they’d just watched the last pony they’d defer to, vaporised in a flash of light. Perhaps they thought Gilda had done that, too.

Trixie stared out at them for just a moment, stricken, left completely alone. The pack of ponies moved in, growling. She glanced behind her at the pony-griffin hug, then quickly back at the advancing horde. She couldn’t put up a magical ward against all of them at once—her horn would burn off from the energies required, and there was no power source to meld with or draw from, anyhow. They’d over-run her, trample her as they had Rarity, in their madness, and she couldn’t hold them off forever.

Trixie Lulamoon’s lip curled. Her teeth bared in a snarl. Her horn flicked on like the crack of doom, and a few ponies in the front row flinched, even as the others pressed forward without a second thought.

“Come on, then,” she hissed, bracing herself in the doorway. “Trixie dares you.”