Chapter 4- Pleasant Returns and Preparing Revenge
Rarely had things looked so grim for Ponyville. In the streets, ponies were looking about everywhere, no longer sure of what was behind them, or who they could trust. Even Twilight had garnered suspicion in recent times, though she couldn't for the life of her understand why. She could feel accusing eyes coming from everywhere as she walked down the street. She lowered her head and tried to walk faster. Up ahead, Spike was reciting the events of the story to Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and an earth pony with a pink and black mane.
"...so then she was just standing there, all frozen, and I was trying to get her attention but it was like she couldn't hear me! So then I rushed downstairs, I grabbed Mr and Mrs Twist, and they were all like 'Could you slow down what you're saying? What's happening?', but there was no time for that so I pulled them upstairs and I was like 'She's just stuck like that!', and then we all saw the room and- oh! Hey Twilight. So anyway, she sent me off and, well, you know the rest."
Twilight greeted her friends, putting on a happy smile as she did so, then turned to the third pony. "Hello, Bon-Bon, how are you today?"
Bon-Bon glanced at Twilight, eyes narrowed. "Good."
There was an awkward pause. Twilight's smile wavered. "...Umm...how's Lyra these days? Where is she now?"
"She's fine..." Bon-Bon inched away. "...why do you ask?"
"It's common courtesy!" snapped Twilight, now thoroughly annoyed. "Gruuh, why is everypony acting so weird around me today? Can anyone tell me? Can you, Bon-Bon?"
"Listen, Twilight Sparkle, you've done a lot for this town over the past few months, and we all appreciate you for it...but don't you think it says something that you were caught breaking and entering, just in front of a mass of criminal evidence?"
"I'm not accusing, just saying what other ponies are, but you've only got your dragon to back you up."
"Only got my- IS EVERYPONY TAKING CRAZY PILLS?!" she screamed, causing a number of stares. "Look, Apple Bloom saw when I came in. How could I have possibly taken in fifty four pages and stuck them all over a room in five minutes?!"
"Yes Twilight, we understand..."
"No you don't! If there was anything that suggested I was responsible for anything, it would have come up in-"
"It's okay, Twilight, we don't think there was aaany other evidence. I have to go now." Bon-Bon went off.
"No, but wai-!"
"Goodbye!" called Bon-Bon without turning around, leaving Twilight standing there, churning out tenths of words.
"Don' listen to her, Twilight," said Applejack as she a reassuring front leg on Twilight's shoulder. "We know you di'nt do nothin'."
"Yeah!" said Rainbow Dash. "We wouldn't doubt you for a second!"
"Thanks, girls," sighed Twilight with a halfhearted smile, "I just wish I knew what to do now."
Suddenly, the four became aware of a loud tapping, exactly like a hammer meeting wood. The three turned to the right, to find a worn out pinkish-purple pony nailing a poster to the town news board.
"Cheerilee?" said Twilight as they drew closer.
"Oh, good to see you Twilight," said Cheerilee, mopping her brow. "I was just setting up for the big day." The poster said 'Equestrian Day of the Book Festival, 8:15 to 5:45, Games, Book Sales, Costume Contest, Don't Be Late!'
Rainbow Dash was the first to express her thoughts. "You mean to tell us you're still going to go through with it? After everything that's gone on?"
"Oh, I know about how dangerous everything's been, but all the fillies and colts have been so looking forward to it, and I just can't bear to let them down. Celestia's only just announced this day, and I won't let anything spoil it."
"That's very noble of you, Cheerilee," said Twilight warmly. "Whatever happens, you have our full support."
"That's right!" said Spike, "We'll lend a helping hoof, come wind or weather or nightmarish abomination of existence that seeks to corrupt the innocent and may well be unstoppmmphmrphm!"
Applejack pushed Spike's face further into the mud. "Yessiree, we'll help ev'ry step o' the way!"
"Heck yeah!" went Rainbow Dash as she hovered overhead. "This Book Day's gonna be the most rockin' book day that anypony ever-Was that cart there before?"
With an ominous creaking trundle, something rolled into town. An ashen wooden box, rolling along creaky wheels. There seemed to be no doors, and any windows that could be seen were black. The wagon rolled along, with nothing pushing or pulling it, and for all the world seeming as though it had a mind all of its own, and then slowed to a halt. Ponies stared at the great thing in fear, some backing away and gulping, a couple trembling in fright. The grey box merely sat there for a few moments.
Suddenly, the cart began to shake. Ponies gasped and retreated from the structure. Bolts began to rattle free. Planks bent outward and cracked. The whole cart seemed to swell as if something massive were trying to break free... BAM! A multicoloured explosion blasted the coach apart, accompanied by a great gust of wind. Beneath the dark exterior lay a lemon yellow building, with a red roof popping up and slotting into place. The cart began to unfurl and assemble itself as a voice called out to the crowds.
"Fillies and Gentlecolts! Gather around!"
"Oh no..." groaned Twilight as she facehoofed. The front unfolded into a stage flanked by blue curtains.
"Preeesenting, in person, the Mare of Magic, the Lady of Light, the Sorceress of the Stupendous! Put your hooves together, for the Return of the Great and Powerful TRRRIXIE!"
There a flash and a rush of smoke rising up from the middle of the stage, which parted to reveal a pony amidst triumphant fanfare and a storm of fireworks. It was the unmistakeable blue unicorn, clad in her familiar purple cape and pointed hat both dotted with stars. She stood with her hooves in the air, an all-too-confident smile on her face, obviously expecting some applause and a few 'ooo's or 'aaa's . All she received were disgruntled grumbles and a few 'boo's and 'hiss's.
Rainbow Dash flapped down to the stage. "What're you doing here, ya talentless bragger?"
"'Bragger'? Look who's talking. 'Talentless'? Have you Ponyvillians already forgotten the splendorous works of the Great and Powerful Trixie?"
"I haven't forgotten anything! Least of all you twirling me 'round upside down in a rainbow, you jerk!"
"Oh, but didn't you call up that rainbow to show how 'special' you were? Pride before the fall, pegasus!"
"NOW look who's talkin'," called Applejack as she went up to the stage. "As ah recall, you wen' about tellin' everypony that you bagged yerself an Ursa Mayjor, then when an Ursa Mynor ripp'd up th' place you couldn't do did'ly fudge! You got some gall comin' down these parts again."
"Well, you'll be glad to know that in the time that the Great and Powerful Trixie has been away, Trixie has learned a valuable lesson or two."
Twilight perked up. "...You have?"
"Lesson One: when boasting, boast about things you've actually done."
Twilight drooped again.
"Lesson Two: if you're good at something, and Trixie is good at sooo many things, never do it for free!"
"That why yer back?" asked Applejack pointedly, "To show off yer fancy light's 'n' make people pay to see it this tahme?"
"Not even close! The goals of the Great and Powerful Trixie are none so petty! Trixie shall speak her true purpose, but only to the Mayor of Ponyville! Come come, you must have surely have a mayor! Bring her forward!"
There was a murmuring and a bustling in the crowd. Scant moments later, the Mayor emerged, looking noticeably more bedraggled. "So, you're the pony that caused all that trouble with the Ursa."
"Oh, my dear Mayor, you wound the Great and Powerful Trixie! The coming of the Ursa Minor was not the doing of Trixie, but merely a collection of more (ahem) overeager acolytes."
"That still leaves you as the root of the crisis, but that's obviously not what you're here about. You wanted to talk to me, but I can't imagine it would be so important that the rest of the citizens can't hear it. There's been a lot happening, we're under a lot of pressure here, so whatever you have to say, spit it out."
"Very well! As the traveling show of Trixie rode onward over hill and over dale, Trixie heard tell of a monstrous boogeymane known only as the Slenderman!"
"...Go on..." Like everyone else, the Mayor had a feeling she knew what was coming, but couldn't quite believe it.
"Well now, it just so happens that over the months, spells have been learned, skills have been taught, practice has made perfect, and so Trixie has returned to grace your town, and SLAY THE SLENDERMAN!"
The crowd gasped. "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" cried Rainbow Dash as she flew backwards off the stage. "You're telling US, that you could take on THAT, and you really expect us to BUY that?!"
"Yes, yes, and yes in both ways! For you see, citizens of Ponyville, this paranormal cryptid may be sinister, mysterious, mystical, maybe even a tad on the tall side! BUT, it is a mortal creature, of flesh and bone, just like anypony else! All it needs is someone to confront it, face to proverbial face!"
"And you think you're the best pony for the job, do you?" asked the Mayor.
"Of course! That is, if the town of Ponyville shows willingness to be rescued."
"What is it you want?"
"One thousand bits."
"Two thousand bits."
"You're going the wrong way."
"I will give you eight hundred and you will take it or leave it!"
There was a tense pause. Trixie looked icily down her snout at the Mayor, and the Mayor looked steely up, teeth ground, nostrils flaring.
"Very well, Madame Mayor. How soon shall Trixie expect this payment?" said Trixie a smug smile.
"I'll have two hundred brought to you in advance payment tonight."
"Good!" The triumphant Trixie turned to the entourage. "The hunt begins in the morning. And the Great and Powerful Trixie shall go alone, and she shall not rest, she shall not return to this place, until the gruesome Slenderman's head is mounted upon a sharpened pole!"
There was another blaze of fireworks, and a cheer went up from a scattered half of the crowd. The stage folded up into the caravan once again, and trundled away of its' own accord.
Cheerilee moaned. "Your friend Fluttershy won't want to hear about this. She hates decapitation."
"Ah don't like this one bit." grumbled Applejack. "That there diva's putting us threw day-light robbery!"
"Relax, Applejack, she's not gonna find much use for it," said Spike confidently, "The Slenderman's gonna take her down before she spend a cent of her two hundred bucks."
"She seemed very sure of her own abilities, Spike," said Twilight. "I mean, more so than usual. What if she actually succeeds, despite all odds? The menace would be gone, but the poor mayor will be eight hundred dollars poorer."
"Buuut the menace will be gone!" pointed out Rainbow Dash, "And if she doesn't beat it, we could recover the money from her body, and we'll never have to hear from that jackass again! There's no way we're gonna lose!"
"I hope you're right, Rainbow Dash...I hope you're right..."
Meanwhile, from inside the gypsy cart, Trixie lay on her bed, hind legs crossed, front hooves forming a pillow, and scoffed at the ceiling. 'Best pony for the job' indeed. Anyone could save you from something that didn't exist! Those pious, superstitious nincompoops had got themselves in a tizzy because of a load of kids going out too late at night. Or maybe there was something out there? If that was the case, she'd shake that con-artist by the hoof and split the proceeds sixty-forty. All that mattered was that these ponies were desperate enough, and stupid enough, to make her a very rich pony by tomorrow.
It shouldn't take too long at all.
"Well, dis ayn't takin' too long ad all."
It was Thursday, 11:07pm. The other night, the Shadowbolts had made the being in the ancient ruins a deal, and their end was to show the being some of their skills. One of which happened to be creating life. Night Terror had tried to say it was impossible, but the being pointed out that Nightmare Moon had reshaped her form into three separate beings, each with some level of mind. So what was to stop them, or the being, from creating a pony from thin air through the same power that generates and manipulates living mass?
It was a valid argument, damn that being, and so the Shadowbolts agreed to teach. And so it was that for the next solid hours, the Shadowbolts had revealed all of their little tricks to the being. The last few hours consisted of a lesson in the most closely guarded secret of any sorceress; the creation of the Facsimile. There were two aspects of any animal that could be manipulated; the Essence of the Mind, and the Essence of the Body. The being could already manipulate the mind to a tee, and now, it could manipulate the living body too.
And yet, even when the lessons were done, the being persisted on practicing. The Shadowbolts were eager to know when their end of the bargain would be held. But the being was adamant: the negotiations would continue when it was done, and it shunned all other attempts at communication. So the Shadowbolts sat there, watching, the boredom of the last twenty two hours sinking in. Frankly they were amazed that the being hadn't fallen asleep on its feet.
"I am afraid that I must concur with our cantankerous cohort," said Penumbra, "As dictated through Stormer's caustic wit and sarcastic elocution, this towering gentlecolt has engorged an immeasurable amount of time, through rigorous exercises of conjuring, that would be better spent debilitating our subsequent coup d'etat."
"'ve I ever told yez how annoyin' you are?"
"Hold your tongues!" hissed Night Terror. "This may be his final masterpiece."
The being held out its arms, and flexed its talon-like appendages. The shadows of the rocks and trees twitched, and then began to flow towards it. The air grew darker as the being stared ahead, the draining light highlighting the bones that shaped sockets and jaws beneath a featureless face. Then, the beings' claws twisted into threatening shapes, like the claws of an owl diving for her prey. Streaks of darkness ran down its arms, and formed whirling orbs in its clutch. Then they burst into tendrils in the air, swooping like pegasi in an aerial dogfight, when in the centre of the room, they struck head on, and with a dark flash, a sparking aura of magic began to expand, permeated by shadowy veins.
The mass started to wobble, and with an gradual shift into an off-white colour, it transmuted into a viscous mass. The being moved its arms, making strange gestures in the air as if moulding clay or moving a string puppet. The mass took shape in the air, forming a shape like a large symmetrical potato. Mounds pushed out of the mass in thick lengths, smoothing out at the bottom, then bending in the middle to become legs. The mass was flashing as if electrically shocked, revealing x-ray imagery of bones and organs forming within. A small trickle from one end formed a measly tail, and a new mound pushed out from the other end. This one, however, formed a lumpy, bulbous appendage, which was flattened and rounded and stretched at both ends until it formed two ears and a snout. With an excruciatingly slow pulling, the sections pulled apart until five gelatinous orifices formed and widened, teeth being pushed up within the largest one. As the new mouth closed, a spike pushed out of the forehead and hardened into a horn, as two new limbs took form on either side. The limbs were like vestigial tails, then large flippers, then finally two featherless wings. As if in a time lapse, tiny, meticulous threads pushed out of the head, tail and wings of the shape, most becoming as hair, but the needles on the wings expanding into feathers. Finally, the whole model began to grow, as if aging on the spot. The legs grew longer, the head became more refined, the mane longer, the wings more majestic. The Facsimile was alarmingly close to a depiction of the Princess Celestia. Finally, the magic aura rested it onto its feet and faded into the air, the shadows retreating back into the folds of their master's clothes. The newly formed alicorn's eyes flicked open, revealing wide eyes devoid of irises.
The Facsimile immediately tumbled to the ground, scattering feathers and hair. The alicorn waved its legs about, bawling and bleating like a seconds-old foal. Its' mane, spread too evenly about its head, melted together or fell off entirely. The sickly newborn had five terrifying seconds of life before being blasted to smithereens by green lightning from Stormer's right hoof. The process never got any less disturbing no matter how many times and how many species you saw it with.
"Bravo, and indeed, congratulations, individual of prolonged longitude, for providing a baker's dozen of performances of this spectacular and entirely useless activity."
"You can create anything from a mouse to an alicorn. More power to you. But for the umpteenth time, the finer details of the body, such as hair, can only be formed by the Essence of Mind!"
"Now if yer done foolin' around, we'd be likin' our payment, an' soon."
The being turned away to stare at the stars above.
"Hey, ah'm talkin' to you, sideshow!" Stormer lunged forward, only to be held at bay by Penumbra. Night Terror advanced.
"You listen to me, Slendermane, or whatever you claim to be called. We've been more than patient with you. We've told you everything you've asked, taught you secrets that violate every natural law pony has ever written, and we've wasted our time with you for just as much as we can tolerate. If you were aiming to make a new Nightmare Moon, then I suggest you listen this time: the body needs a mind to anchor it, and our personality needs a mind to latch to it. Nothing you've done here has served any purpose, you seem to have neither a plan nor a brain to form one, so if you value your scrawny excuse for a spine, NOW'S THE TIME TO START-!"
The arm seized her throat before she could blink, and with lightning speed pulled Night Terror through the air and stopped her inches from the being's face. Even as she struggled, the being forced her head to an angle, and proceeded to whisper into her ear. As mysterious secrets and dark information spilled into her mind, Night Terror's grimace began to soften, and her flailing started to wind down. As she listened on, the new thoughts suddenly took shape and structure in her mind, forming a terrible chain of events, and her legs fell limp, her eyes wide and her mouth open with shock. Then, its plans revealed, the being lowered Night Terror gently to the ground, and released her.
Penumbra and Stormer drew closer to her, to see what had happened. Stormer started to think that the being had brainwashed her or put mind worms in her or something, the way she stared blankly into space. "...wow..." She said at last. "...That is...Hmmm..." She slowly turned to her siblings, her blank stare shifting into an unnerving smile. "...I think we could afford put up with this one a little longer..."
"What? Why? Wha'd he tell ya?"
"In good time, Stormer," said Night Terror, as she managed to frogmarch the two Shadowbolts on either side along with her. "Right now, I'm afraid there's not much time to lose. Didn't you hear the shadows? Our dear guest Ms Trixie will be around in the morning. Let's be ready to meet with her."
The being made its exit, stage left.