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No Rest for the Wicked

By: Vilwind


The sun was slowly setting behind the distant mountains when Trixie was preparing herself for a rest after a day of hard work. She used the last moments of sunlight to comb her mane. She smiled at her image in the mirror.

Yes Trixie, it was a good day was it not? she asked herself in her thoughts.

Yes, it was. You pulled it off professionally the exorcism act was a perfect idea! The loot from today’s performance and talisman sale finally puts me back on my hooves. Trixie’s thoughts went to the purse hidden inside of her home-caravan. Ha! For just one day I earned enough to pay off the last of my new caravan. It was a brilliant idea coming to Cloudbergen! Silly ponies fearing their own shadows. I almost run out of talismans! I’ll have to come here more often! Of course, I will have to find some new pony for the possession act, but it will definitely pay off... and I have to make some less durable talismans.

Busy combing her mane and lost in thought, Trixie didn’t notice two ponies approaching her from behind. Both ponies were masked.

Trixie didn’t understand what was happening when somepony pulled a dark hood over her head. All she noticed was that the world suddenly went black.

Trixie tried to yell but somepony pushed its hoof through her mouth and she felt a cold and sharp object at her throat.

“Listen Trixie, if you want to live, you will not try anything funny. You have a dagger at your throat. Just remember that my dagger cuts faster than you cast spells. Shake your head if you understand,” said quietly a male voice to her ear.

Trixie shook her head, and swallowed hard. She felt the blade very clearly now.

“Smart move, Trixie. There is somepony who wants to talk to you. You know who The Lady is?” asked the male voice, very quietly this time.

You know who The Lady is? she asked herself in her thoughts. The Lady!

Trixie remembered herself stories and gossips which she heard while traveling through this part of Equestria. Stories of a powerful crime lord known as The Lady. Gossips which now seamed to her less amusing and more dreadful then when she heard them for the first time. She shook her head.

“Good, you’re a clever pony. To come to Cloudbergen and not to know about The Lady would be foolish,” said the stallion with a voice as cold as his blade. “Unfortunately, she is interested in you, so your life belongs to The Lady now.”

“Move now, she’s waiting,” the stallion stated after Trixie’s uncomfortable silence.




The dungeon smelled of blood and pain. It was the scent of death, and Trixie didn't want to be here. Although the hood was removed, Trixie couldn’t see much in the darkness of the dungeon. The sharp and crude scent of the pony pushing her along stung at her nose. With a shove from behind, she fell to her knees. She didn't even lift her head as she laid upon the floor.

“Be gentle.“ She heard a quiet female voice coming from where the walls lurked in the darkness. “We do not want to kill or injure our guest, do we?”

 “N..No, my Lady. Forgive me, my Lady,” the pony guarding her replied, giving a humble and lowly bow.

 “I am glad you agreed to visit us, Ms. Trixie,” said the female voice. “I’m sorry to welcome you to this place. But this is our...“ The voice was silent for a moment. “Tradition. Welcome to the Lionheart Castle.”

 Trixie’s heart froze as she once again remembered herself all those dreadful tales of Clodbergen’s true ruler and the Lionheart Castle, overlooking the Cloudbergen valley. The Lady: a sinister crime lord, living legend or a title no one ever know. Trixie tried not to think of all those stories of ponies who disappeared and were never found again or to the contrary, to be found in different parts of the city, simultaneously.

 The further away you get from the royal light of Canterlot, the longer the shadows become, she thought to herself, and cursed the idea of having come to Cloudbergen.

 “A great and powerful pony does not ask for forgiveness,” Trixie replied, not looking up or rising from her knees.

 “Great and powerful pony...” the voice repeated, deep in thought. “Thank you, Ms. Trixie. I like that, but I don’t think everypony would agree.”

 Trixie waited longer, not daring to speak because she knew that it was her captor’s move now. The first... and last move. The life of a pony in confinement under Cloudbergen’s Lionheart Castle dungeons was only worth as much to The Lady as she was willing to pay for it.

Lionheart Castle, thought Trixie. The Lady has a special sense of humor: choosing a location so awful and with such horrific past glory as her home.

 “Do you have any idea why I invited you here?” she asked in a polite tone. It was as if she didn’t know that two thugs kidnapped Trixie from her caravan, popped a black hood on her head, and silenced her with a dagger at her throat.

 Trixie knelt with a bowed head, staring at the wet, dark stones. Her knees began to throb with a dull pain.

 “No, My Lady, “ said Trixie. “Trixie feels honored that she has brought your attention upon her.” She tried to sound sincere, but if she had been informed earlier that she would receive such privilege, she would never have come to Cloudbergen. She promised herself that for the future, if she even had a future now, she strongly doubted that...

 “Oh, yes,” said the female voice. ”Certainly, Ms. Trixie. I wish to hire you for your professional abilities, and I will reward you immensely if you succeed. You can get up now.”

 Trixie rose from her knees, but she still did not dare looking in the direction of her interlocutor’s voice. It was impossible to spot anything in the dark, but she didn’t want to give the impression that she even wanted to look around. They said that The Lady could see in the dark, so Trixie preferred that she saw her lowering her head and eyes to face the floor.

Humility, patience and lack of curiosity - only that can save me, thought Trixie. If anything can save me.

 “Professional abilities, Lady?” she asked. “Trixie is only a wretched vagabond, trying to survive in this world.”

 “You underestimate yourself.” Again she heard amusement in the Lady’s voice. “And this is unfortunate, because everypony should know their own value. Meanwhile, I have been told about your special… exorcist skills.” There was a disturbing emphasis on “exorcist.”

 Trixie felt a cold shiver run from the base of her spine up to her neck. She once wondered whether the phrase "drench yourself in ice-cold sweat" was true or not, now she knew that in fact, yes, it was.

 “I want to use your skills,” The Lady went on. “When everything is completed successfully, the reward will surpass your wildest expectations. Believe me, Trixie, I can reward those whom I consider to be a useful tool, and I never forget favors. I also do not forget insults.” The Lady fell silent for a moment. “But that's another story, because you do not intend to insult me Trixie, do you?”

 “Trixie would rather kill herself, than insult you, My Lady,” she said with all sincerity. Trixie would chose a painless and quick death; and according to the stories about The Lady her captors would not be so gracious.

 “Very well.” She laughed. “I’m starting to like you, Trixie, but let us get back to business. I hope you believe I keep all my promises?”

 Yes, Trixie firmly believed in it. Ponies told different things about The Lady, but nobody could accuse her of dishonesty. She generously rewarded and punished severely, though perhaps the phrase "severe punishment" didn’t fully reflect what she did to enemies or ponies who betrayed her confidence.

 “You'll certainly want to ask many questions, and I am willing to patiently answer all of them,” she said. “Ask for anything that can help you at your work.”

 Trixie waited a moment before she realized that The Lady had finished; the last thing she wanted was to interrupt her.

 “I am a liar,” said Trixie, swallowing hard. She knew that only honesty could help her, so she dropped the third person act. “I wanted to extort some money and came up with the whole show.” She almost said “which inadvertently you believed,” but she managed to bite her tongue in time. “I know a few tricks and I know how to create the right mood. I hired some helpers. That's all. In fact, I'm nopony …”

 I really, really want to go home already. In one piece. Then, as soon as possible, leave this cursed town and forget that I was ever here. She wanted to forget that she was kneeling on the wet, gray stones. Forget that the little, amused, feminine voice in the darkness could as easily and kindly adjudicate death sentence as ask for a glass of wine.

 “Ah, yes,” said The Lady. Trixie didn’t hear the anger in her tone, but something that sounded like disappointment or maybe fatigue, maybe even sadness, sounded in her voice. It was probably even worse.

 “I humbly invoke forgiveness,” Trixie muttered as a trickle of cold sweat ran down her spine. Trixie was so frightened that she didn’t feel any humiliation in her statement.

 “Forgiveness,” The Lady repeated, savoring the word in her tone as if it were a new concept that one must first feel somewhere in the mouth and under the tongue before understanding. “She asks for forgiveness, Adler, have you heard?” The Lady turned to someone who had to stand next to her, but about whose presence Trixie so far didn’t notice.

 “I heard, my Lady,” the stallion’s voice was quiet, but firm and resolute. There were no notes of fear and humility in this stallion’s voice.

 Certainly not like in mine, Trixie thought with disgust, because I'm afraid as hell. I'm afraid like bloody hell. I am still too young to die. She felt unwanted tears under her eyelids, like sharp prickly grains of gravel. How does it feel to see that somepony is crawling at your feet, to have power over her life and death? Does it still amuse The Lady?

 “I’m disappointed, Trixie,” said The Lady with a slight sigh. Her voice became even more feminine. “But despite this, I have in me enough sense of justice to recognize that you are without fault. Everypony is just trying to survive... So your death will not become a deterrent example to others. No torture, Adler, and don’t kill her publicly, just drown her in the sewers. No witnesses.” Her voice had a cool tone and Trixie heard the rustle of a Lady’s dress.

 Trixie dropped to her knees again, because this position seemed to her the most appropriate while listening to the sad voice of the Lady. She barely restrained her sobs, but she still had that little bit of dignity to not die crying. There would be no moaning, screaming, or desperately clutching the guard’s leg. Trixie knew that whatever she did, her death would not survive in the legends nor in the songs, not even in an anecdote. In a day or two, or a month, no one would remember “The Great and Powerful Trixie” who was unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But a little bit of dignity was to be her last gift for herself.


 “Lady,” said Trixie, drawing her words with difficulty. Her larynx was tight, as if someone had grabbed her by the throat and held it tightly. “Allow me to...”

 “Talk,” The Lady said after a moment.

 “I'm not an exorcist nor a healer, my Lady,” she said. “But I know much about books and writing. I studied at the School for Gifted Unicorns in Canterlot.” She preferred not saying that she was thrown out after the third year, or that she didn’t even complete half of her studies. “I was also an assistant of... One of the assistants,“ she corrected herself, “of Twilight Sparkle from Ponyville I’m sure you heard of her. The one who banished Nightmare Moon herself. I know the rites and words for exorcisms, but I have no power. But maybe I can help. I'd love to help,” she added in despair.

 “Adler?” Lady asked.

 “It cannot hurt,” he replied after a moment. ”We can kill her later if she doesn’t prove herself or if you request it.”

 “Ms. Trixie.” Again she heard the rustle of Lady dress. In her mind, Trixie began a litany of thanks to Celestia. ”You could have died easily, without pain. If you are trying to deceive me and buy only a few moments of life, then I guarantee that Adler will make those last moments of your life more enjoyable. Who do we have in town, Adler?”

 “Brulee, my Lady.”

 “Ah, Brulee... Very good. Brulee is a master of the torture trade. Have you ever seen a pony with their hooves ripped off running around on hot coals, Trixie?

 “No, madam, I have not seen.” Trixie had a dry mouth so she couldn’t even swallow saliva. “I'd rather not see, if you please...”

 “Pray so, that you do not see it by your own example.” The Lady laughed. “So what? Quick, painless death, or you will try to work for me?”

 “I'll try to help you. But could I ask a question?”

 “Yes, yes, ask what you want,” The Lady replied. ”Get her up,” she ordered.

 There were sounds of steps and shuffling, then somepony came out of the darkness on the left. Trixie was picked up from her knees. She was still trying to avoid looking into the dark, from which came the voice of The Lady.

 “I like her,” she said. “Do you know why I like you, Ms. Trixie?”

 “I'm honored, but I don’t know.”

 “Your eyes,“ she said. ”You don’t try to look in my direction. Not a single glance, not a single quick, startled look...”

 So The Lady CAN see in the darkness. Trixie congratulated herself in her thoughts that she could maintain discipline. Despite the temptation. Stupid temptation, because in the darkness, she wouldn’t see anything. Besides, she didn’t think that knowing The Lady’s face would turn out to be healthy.

 “Well, then. Ask me.”

 “From your words, Lady, I conclude that you need an exorcist unicorn,” said Trixie and waited a moment, but The Lady didn’t deny it. ”It is a rare profession, and from what I know, and I know well, none are currently in the city, but the exorcist unicorns can be found in Canterlot, where in addition to healer unicorns are also mares capable of casting out demons...”

 “Witches from Canterlot...“ For the first time, her voice sounded cold.

 This is interesting, thought Trixie. Why is she this reluctant about unicorns from Canterlot? Usually ponies aren’t afraid of them, and even have respect for them for their superior knowledge and magic abilities.

 “I care about time, Ms. Trixie,“ The Lady explained. “And the road to Canterlot is long. Of course, I have sent my fastest ponies there but before they return, it may be too late.”

 Too late? Trixie was well aware what The Lady meant by those words. Manifestation becomes permanent and the demon cannot be removed without killing a possessed pony, or the demon kills the host himself. Such an act would be pointless, because then it would have to return to the world-not rather than gather strength to seek the next victim. But demons did not act according to the rules of logic, and probably didn’t care about them much.

 “May I ask, what are the symptoms of this possession?” asked Trixie. “Who is the subject? How often does the manifestation present itself, and what are the course and consequences of it? What is the state of health of the victim? How...”

 “Whoa, whoa!” The Lady cried. “Not all at once, Ms. Trixie. Take her to the chambers,“ she ordered, “and treat her with respect. Ms. Trixie works for me... For the time being.”

 Trixie bowed deeply, still without raising her eyes to the darkness. Again, she heard the rustle of a dress and then her nostrils were assaulted by the nauseating stench emanating from a guard’s body. On her shoulder, she felt his heavy hoof.

 “Come on, lady.” The voice of the guard had now a hint of respect.

 But Trixie didn’t forget what The Lady said. Ms. Trixie works for me... For the time being. These words are worth remembering.

 Besides, she suddenly thought that the work she took could mean something much worse than the wrath of the Lady. So far, even earnestly trying to defend her life, she had not taken into account one thing: somepony in the close surroundings of her new employer was possessed by a demon. And the demons don’t like exorcists very much. Even more so, they don’t like ponies who, not having the adequate capacity nor the necessary knowledge, dare to pretend to be exorcists. Trixie had no illusions as to her qualifications and level of knowledge; she was intelligent enough to properly assess her strength. She had just a shy hope that, in fact, it wasn’t a demonic possession, but a mental disorder that could be cured by convincing the patient of her capabilities and impressive rituals. Sometimes faith in the efficiency of the doctor was medicine.

 However, if the pony about which The Lady spoke was possessed by a demon, the case would become much more serious. Trixie trusted that she could cope with a small, malicious poltergeist from the first circle or perhaps even a demon of the second circle. Even unicorns without special training could deal with them; you just needed a strong will. But what happens if the body of the object was possessed by a true demon? One of the powerful Soul-thieves, thirsty visitors in the pony universe that were ready to defend themselves at all costs from exile to the cold wastes of the world-not? Then Trixie could only wonder whether the demonstration of the skills of the master executioner Brulee would not be a better option than facing an angry demon.


* * *

The black hood was removed when Trixie entered the chamber. She blinked; her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and, although there was no window, the room was really bright. On a carved table stood seven candelabra with long, white candles that wept thick drops of wax. A birch log burned in the fireplace. There were a few huge, damask-upholstered chairs.

 She felt the smell of heavy perfume, not the stench of unwashed bodies. Trixie saw that next to her stood a slim turquoise stallion with a long mane falling over his shoulders. The stallion was richly dressed in a silver-embroidered black jacket.

 “Sit down, Ms. Trixie. My name is Trotbolt,” he said with a polite tone. “I will take care of you. Behind the door is your bedroom, and I ask kindly, not to leave those two chambers. If you have any requests for meals, I will be happy to assist. The same applies to books, if they are needed.”

 “Thank you,” she replied with relief and sank into a chair.

 The fireplace radiated with pleasant warmth, and the fire danced playfully between birch logs. Trixie smiled at her own thoughts, but then she felt uncomfortable when she realized that this fire could bring both warmth and pain.

 “I will need books,” she said aloud. “All those that you will find in my caravan.”

 “These have been already brought,” said Trotbolt. ”Is there anything else?”

 “In my workshop you will find some reagents, herbs, devoted candles, and chalk from Canterlot…”

 “All your things will be packed and moved.”

 “There are some books ... but I do not think you are able to get them,” she added after some thought.

 “Please prepare a list,” her keeper interrupted. “Ink, paper and quill can be found in the desk.”

 “I’ll prepare it immediately.” Trixie rose from her chair. “And when can I talk with The Lady?” The question came to her with unexpected ease, but the thought of a conversation with that mare filled her with fear.

 Fear - the simple word wasn’t enough. She knew that The Lady could, without remorse, order her death or torture, then dine by a candlelight and... well, and what? What did The Lady do when she was not dealing with the issues of her organization? Feast among friends? Indulge in sexual perversions? Descend into the basement and listen to the groans of tortured prisoners? Read books? Embroider or weave? Attend parties, like most of the rich gentry? Maybe she simply has no time for anything else beyond the planning of further crimes?

 “I do not know,” said Trotbolt. “I think soon. Do you want me to wait for the list?”

 “Yes, please.”

 Trixie opened the cabinet and took out a bottle of black ink, a well-sharpened quill, and a parchment card, then began to write. It was tempting to come up with some non-existent books (it would always be an excuse), but then she realized that playing with The Lady in an attempt to cheat her was just as safe as waking up a dragon.

 So far, Trixie had tried to be honest and somehow lived. Yes she had to lie to save her mane but she was dancing here on thin ice, so Trixie wrote only the titles of books she knew existed. Two of them were, admittedly, only loosely related to the topic of exorcism, but were so rare that Trixie could not refuse herself the hope of even seeing these volumes.

           “I do not think you can get all of them,” she said. Trotbolt took the parchment with an indulgent smile.

 “If anyone is in possession of those books, tomorrow you will have them on your table,” he said, and Trixie, contrary to common sense, immediately believed him. In the end, who was Trixie to suspect that there were impossible things for The Lady? For many years she ruled the underground world of Cloudbergen, and some ponies said quietly that even the Margrave was on her pay. Not to mention the Mayor, city council, and guards.

 “Rest now,” said Trotbolt. “Because tomorrow will be a tough day for you.”


* * *

Trixie hadn’t slept in a bed so comfortable and soft for a long time. A delicious wine with a spicy aroma helped her to fall asleep, but her slumber was far from restful. It was hard to sleep when thoughts about being a quack and a fraud who had been tasked to defeat a demon on behalf of The Lady kept running through her mind. Trixie’s dreams were full of nightmares.

 In her dreams, some black characters had thrown ponies in the fire. Somepony danced on hot coals, and complained that his legs were unevenly toasted. Someone else poured dense, blood-colored wine over the fire. The mare woke up screaming and jerked her head up from the pillows.

 “Bad dream, Ms. Trixie?”

 Trixie already knew this voice. She froze, and then with a trembling hoof wiped the sweat from her brow. She refrained from looking in the direction from where she had heard the voice, although the room was absolutely dark. She couldn’t even see her own hoof which had just rubbed her eye lids.

“Yes, my lady,” Trixie said quietly. “Bad dreams...”

“Ponies often have nightmares here,” the voice said thoughtfully. “Something is in these walls. Something very bad, Ms. Trixie. Something ancient. Something has been sleeping here, and woke up with a desire for a new life...” Trixie listened to her calm, monotonous voice. “You know where we are, right?” the voice asked. “You know the story of the Lionheart Castle. You think this evil could survive?”

Trixie remembered herself the legend that shrouded not only the Lionheart Castle but the Cloudbergen  itself.

“No,” Trixie said loudly and swallowed. “I don’t believe that, my Lady. Too many years have passed to remain even a  trace of that evil. If, of course, we speak about the same thing.”

“They had their academy here,” said The Lady, ignoring Trixie’s words. “They celebrated dark rituals here, sacrifices of animals and ponies. They conducted studies in laboratories so terrible that everything was erased. Celestia ordered to purge not only of memory of them, but even the memory of the memory. Was it not, Trixie?”

“Yes,” she admitted. “But they were only ponies, Your Kindness. Evil. Cruel. They even knew the power of dark forces, but they were only ponies. And they all have been killed. Even they could not survive the ages. Celestia won. They are gone forever.”

“Nothing is forever,” she replied with a hint of sadness.

Trixie thought about the horror that former inhabitants of this Castle had to arouse ages ago if even The Lady talked about them with anxiety. The same Lady who ruled with a firm hoof over Cloudbergen and she was not known for compassionate nature as Trixie had experienced. She asked Trixie if the evil survived? Yes – would be the answer if Trixie wanted to commit suicide - evil had survived thanks to ponies like you. Thanks to ponies who tear out the hooves and order the victims to dance over hot coals. In what way are you better than the necromancers that studied here?

 Trixie wondered: how long would she survive after addressing a similar question? Or maybe her boldness and sincerity would be appreciated? She didn’t intend to try, though. She teetered between life and death anyway.

 “So where do these dreams come from?” asked The Lady. “From where comes the fear that many feel when alone at night in an empty chamber? From where comes the groaning, wailing, and weeping walls? Blasphemous whispers coming from everywhere and nowhere? Increasingly, more and more powerful ...”

 “Imagination,” Trixie said so softly that she barely heard herself. “Memories of great magic may be contained in the walls,” she added in a louder and firmer tone. “Defenseless, like a painting or sculpture. Past moments and fame embedded in the walls, like flies in amber resin.”

 “Maybe,” The Lady agreed after a while. “Or maybe not. I waited too long to explain it all. For too long I had neglected the warnings. You know that it took five hundred years for anypony to step inside the castle after the … cleansing. I should have sent for royal exorcists in advance. Perhaps even pay my way to Princess herself… she dealt with their magic thousand years ago, just like you said. And now I have only you. A quack, fake exorcist, and talisman seller. Funny, isn’t it?”

 “Let me express a different view, my Lady,” Trixie said. “I regret that I ever disturbed the peace of the inhabitants of Cloudbergen.” She had to be aware of the fact that her company was the last thing a quiet pony who wanted in humility would wish for.

“Yes,” she replied after a moment. “I think that you really regret it. Do you believe in destiny, Ms. Trixie?”

 “No,” she said. “I believe in coincidence, but not in destiny. I believe that we have free will. Limited, but free in that very limited way.”

 The Lady laughed sadly. Trixie pulled up her quilt, because it seemed to her that the room had gotten colder.

 “You are a philosopher, Ms. Trixie,” said The Lady, without irony. “Perhaps, if time and circumstances were different, we would talk about philosophy, about life, fortunate or unfortunate cases, guiding our steps this way, not the other...”

 Probably, she thought harshly, it was just a dream of my life. Talk about philosophy with the most ruthless and most mysterious criminal in Equestria. It's as exciting as a poisonous snake found under my pillow.

“Can you help me?” The Lady asked after a moment.

“Yes, my Lady,” said Trixie. Her imagination played back a vision of a pony dancing on the glowing coals.

 “Do not be afraid of me,” she said, as if reading her thoughts. “I do not want your judgments and actions to be paralyzed with fear. Fear will deprive you of your skills, which, as you say, are not too strong. I came to offer you a gift, Trixie.”

  “I give you your life,” she said. “Try to save her, and I will fulfill your every wish. If you fail, I will banish you from the city and you will never return to Cloudberg. But you will keep your life and health.”

 “Thank you, my lady,” Trixie whispered, though sincerely doubted that the promise would be fulfilled. She wanted to trust that if she failed, at least The Lady would allow her to die quickly and painlessly. Of course, if her despair was not so great, only Trixie’s pain would soothe the sorrow of her heart.

 “Don’t thank me,” said the cool voice. “No mercy or sympathy guides my decision. It's just common sense, Trixie. Should common sense suggest me that you would better perform your task blinded and without your horn, you would be already blinded and your horn cut off.”

 “I know,” The Lady continued with a milder tone, “that without fear, you will work more effectively and confidently. What point is there to have you scared to death first, then ask you to ascend to the heights of your magic? I know that the work of the exorcist requires focus, faith, and wisdom ...”

 “And power.” Trixie dared to interrupt her faster than she could think what she was doing. But The Lady wasn’t offended. “And I have no power.”

 “And what is power? “ she asked with genuine curiosity. “You know that?”

 “It's... Is...” Trixie searched for the appropriate wording. “The wine in the bowl, a sword in the scabbard. Just by seeing the pitcher, my lady, you are unable to say whether it’s wine or not. But the pitcher, if it felt, you could know it.”

 “So you're just an empty, useless shell...” Was that a humorous note in her voice? Trixie was not sure, because her words hurt her too much, although she realized that she could not have put it better.

 “Madam, forgive my boldness, but can I ask a question?”

 “Ask Trixie,” she replied after a moment.

 “Could I ever... See your face?” Trixie asked, wondering how she found the courage and arrogance to ask such a meaningless question.

 “Why?” The Lady asked, not surprised at her request.

 “To confront imagination with reality,” she said.

 “Knowledge is good by itself, Ms. Trixie,” she said calmly. “Beware of questions that you ask, because somepony can give you the answer.” She sighed lightly. ”And now you answer my question: Why don’t you want to die?”

 She could respond in many ways. She had concluded that pony life is inscribed with self-preservation instinct. That you have to live to help others. That you should enjoy the joys of everyday life. That life is a gift from the Goddess; a gift which one doesn’t give up without resistance. Instead, she said, “Because I have never been seized by the flames of pure magic, my lady. I live with the hope that someday it will happen.”

 The silence after her words stretched almost to infinity. Trixie didn’t care if The Lady understood what she said, but the important thing was that she gave an absolutely honest answer.

 “This is a convincing reason to live for a unicorn,” The Lady said in the end. “Sleep now. Tomorrow, Trotbolt will answer all your questions. Good night, Ms. Trixie.”

 Trixie didn’t hear when she stepped away. Only after a while did the door creak softly. Trixie laid down and pulled the blanket under her chin.

 All of your questions, she repeated in her mind. I would like to know if I'll be still alive tomorrow!


* * *

Trixie was awoken by voices coming from the chamber next to her bedroom and sounds of sliding furniture. The room was still completely dark, so she used her magic to light candles in a candelabrum next to the bed.

 She had no idea where she was. Was it The Lady’s headquarters? The castle? Did she stay in the dungeon, or in the tower? She tried to remember the complex of buildings erected on the site of the former necromancers’ castle, but she knew too little of Cloudbergen. Besides, knowing where she was gave her little to go on, because there was only one thing on her mind: How do I save my head? It didn’t matter whether she was underground, in a tower, or in a palace. The road leading to the exit, and thus the gates of Cloudbergen, were opened only by complying with the will of The Lady.

 Trixie wondered if The Lady was sincere last night. Would she really, in the event of failure, find so much pity to let her go free? She dared to doubt it. The pain and bitterness caused by the loss of a loved one would be too great to find compassion for a little crook. At least she could trust that death would be quick and painless. Although Trixie was not going to give up now.

 While the heart beats in our chest, there is hope, so they say. And they are right.

 She opened the bedroom door and saw Trotbolt with two helpers. On the floor, evenly and carefully placed, laid equipment and magical items from Trixie’s wagon. Some actually had in them some good magic. Chalk from Canterlot was blessed by the local Celestial priests, or maybe even Celestia herself. Thick, yellow wax candles were rendered in The School for Gifted Unicorns and their flame had power to enhance magic performed around them. Trixie also had worthless amulets and talisman sets: silver hoops to shackle the demons were, in reality, only silver-plated forgeries. Trixie had no intention to catch anyone. She could only hope that the poor demon would agree to get out of the body, because she didn’t think that she could imprison even the tiniest of the World-not creatures. Besides, it was one matter to scare a rat, and another to catch it and shut it in a cage, right?

 Not many ponies remembered that there were once unicorns capable of forcing demons to obey, thought Trixie. Even Twilight Sparkle, a mare of mighty magic and unshakable principles, wouldn’t have dared to play with a demon in his own labyrinth game. And not only to avoid contamination of the soul by communication with an impure being, but normal fear that the whole thing gets out of control.

 “Welcome,” said Trotbolt with a cordial tone. “Somepony will bring you breakfast in a moment.”

 “Look,” he added, pointing his hoof in the corner of the room, there was a towering pile of books. “We have gathered everything you ordered. Her eminence told me that if your plans are successful, everything will belong to you.”

 Like I have a chance, Trixie thought, but she couldn’t resist squatting next to the books and look at some of the titles. In fact, in the stack were not only volumes drawn from her own quarters, but everything else she ordered as well. With emotion, she took Essay About Healing The Body. The book was completely useless for expelling demons, but it was such a rarity! Supposedly there were only two copies in the world. There were here and there, more or less accurate copies of this book, but here in the hooves of Trixie was one of the ancient originals. The third in the world? How could it be? Or maybe it came from the personal library of the Lady? Well, in the end, who could know about her passions? Maybe she was a lover of knowledge and in the intervals between intrigue and planning murder, she was studying the works of ancient authors?

 “Ms. Trixie?” Trotbolt’s voice pulled her from reverie.

 “Yes, yes…” She tore her mind from the volumes and picked herself up from her knees. “Sorry, but this is a great emotion to see such wonderful books. Keeping them in your hooves... Oh, you can’t even imagine ...”

 Trotbolt smiled slightly, with only corners of his mouth, and Trixie assumed that the passion for knowledge was not, in his opinion, a thing to boast about, but only a caprice and a whim.

 Trotbolt hit the floor two times with his hoof. His two assistants left the room, closing the door behind them. The stallion sat in a chair.

 “I am here to answer all your questions,” he said. “About this... possession.”

 “Did I hear doubt in your voice?” Trixie sat on a stool, wondering when the service would bring a meal. She did not want to talk without breakfast, but it was to be a “job first, pleasure later” day.

 “Doubt?” Trotbolt repeated. “It may be too much? But, as a specialist, you know for sure better than me, that possession is mistaken sometimes with...” Trixie noticed that he was a little embarrassed.

 “Insanity?” she suggested.

 “We try not to use that word,” Trotbolt grunted. “Though perhaps it describes the problem in some extent.”

 “Let's start from the beginning,” said Trixie. “Because I do not know anything. What is the age and sex of the object?”

 “Object...” The stallion scowled with obvious reluctance. “Try not to use that word, Ms. Trixie. The filly is nine years old,” he continued, ignoring that Trixie had eagerly nodded. “Cheerful, lively, interested in the world, and clever. She had the best teachers that could be found.”

 “When was the first manifestation?”

 “A month ago,” Trotbolt said, sighing. “She threw herself on her nanny and battered her face. She screamed...” He interrupted himself for a moment. “What a scream it was, Ms. Trixie! Not a filly’s scream, no. It was guttural. Hoarse. Thick... Like wheezing... I could not bear it.”

 “Changes on the face?”

 “Changes on the face?” His smile now resembled a grimace. “Ms. Trixie, her face has changed, as if she had put on a mask. Her eyes became a glowing yellow, and the pupils became vertical slides, expanded like a cat’s...”

 Trixie started to sweat. The symptoms were exactly the ones of a case of possession.

 “Anything else?”

 “She spoke in another language... Maybe it was just gibberish. But these words; I couldn’t understand them.” Trotbolt looked somewhere in the corner of the room and with a clear dislike evoked memories. “It sounded like blasphemy. Like a curse. You would hear them and you would want to plug your ears.” He flinched, then looked around. “Do you have some wine here? Yes, you do. I brought it here myself.”

 He reached into a locker and took out a bottle and two glasses carved from crystal on slender legs. He poured the wine, and Trixie saw that his hooves were quiet and reliable. She accepted a glass from Trotbolt and wet her lips.

 “Carry on, please,” she said.

 “We pulled her off her nanny. She is a little filly, Ms. Trixie, and three stallions barely managed to carry her to bed. There she threw up more... Her legs ...”

 “Buckled under strange angles?” asked Trixie, and she wasn’t surprised when Trotbolt nodded.

 “Then she fell asleep and when she awoke, she was a filly again.” He sighed and drank a sip of wine. “Except that she cried because every part of her body hurt.”

 “Well, yes.” Trixie rubbed her chin. She was tempted to cry herself now.

 Everything indicated that the child was really possessed. She may have suspected ordinary epilepsy, if Trotbolt hadn’t mentioned the eyes. Yellow eyes with vertical, dilated pupils. This symptom didn’t occur with epilepsy. Maybe the witnesses saw what they wanted to see... Or maybe this is how light from candles fell and caused the illusory effect?

 I understand that there was another manifestation?” she asked weakly.

 “There was,” said Trotbolt. ”Two days ago. Everything repeated itself, but this time Sun Glimmer, the name of the filly, or rather was... In any case, IT had said something. With a thick, not-pony like voice. Even now I have shivers.” He poured the wine, without looking to see if Trixie had something in her glass.

 “What did you hear?”

 “She said her name is Azhael Azdrubal Adahal ...

 “Merciful Celestia,” whispered Trixie. A shiver ran through her body from the tips of her mane to her hooves.

 “What?” Trotbolt looked worried.

 “He is not one.” Trixie started to shake as in a fever. “The three names! Azhael - demon of decay, Azdrubal - master of the occult, and Adahal, called the Great Whore.”

 “She spoke with three voices,” said Trotbolt, watching trembling Trixie closely. “A slow and steady...”


 “...old and gasping...”


 “...And dull, sweet, feminine…”


 “They said that they are in the filly, that they gain strength and soon will disclose their demands.”

 Trixie nodded.

 “They want to make a translocation,” she said quietly. ”The body of a filly is not enough. They have to find three other bodies, but to move to them, you need to perform specific rituals. This is what they will demand from you.”

 “Well, probably better to have a demon in one body than in three, right?

 “They will torment the filly, if you do not agree,” said Trixie and buried her face in her hooves. Everything had surpassed her abilities.


 “Azhael will curse her. She will rot from the inside, like a leper. Her body will start to fall off the bones. Azdrubal will disturb her mind with visions of ancient, dark rituals. Adahal will send a desire bordering with insanity. Her organs...” She waved her hoof only because she did not want to talk more.

 “You know much about demons.” Trotbolt had to be shocked, but he didn’t show it. When she took her hooves from her face, she saw that the stallion was white as a sheet.

 Why does it always have to end this way? thought Trixie. After the affair in Ponyville, Trixie wanted to change something in her repertoire. When she came up with the story about the Ursa Major, she didn’t bother to read anything about them. Where they live, how to recognize them, etc. And what happened? Two stupid colts actually managed to find one—an Ursa Minor, but still, that thing was huge—only so they could see her performing “awesome magic”. She got lucky back there. Trixie wasn’t a stupid mare, and she took a lesson from that encounter. She changed her performance; she added some folk legends about ghosts and demons and how she vanquished them. She bought a book about exorcisms ‘Star Swirl the Bearded, Exorcist Guide with footnotes’. Trixie brought her inspiration from it for fake rituals and scary stories, did some research, she wanted to be “legit”, she didn’t want to be surprised. She paid from time to time somepony to imitate possession and miraculously cured him. The fame and cash from selling talismans and other stuff was good, but the odds to actually find some pony who was possessed by a demon were… as big as finding an Ursa Minor in middle of Everfree Forest. Yes, me and my luck.

 “I am after all... I studied,” Trixie stammered. “I learned about them. But... Theoretically, by Celestia!”

 “Has somepony been possessed by those demons? Have they been exorcised by somepony?”

 “Yes!” yelled Trixie. “Yes, Luna damn it! Star Swirl the Bearded, called the Holy, called the conqueror of demons, called the Hoof of Celestia, the author of hundreds of spells, books and prayers.”

 “Let’s call him.” Trotbolt stared at Trixie, amazed by her explosion.

 “Call him?” repeated Trixie. “That's not difficult, because Star Swirl is in Cloudbergen.”

 “How so?!”

 “Two meters under the ground. He has a beautiful marble tomb in the middle of the cemetery. For one thousand, five hundred and thirty-five years!”

 Trotbolt dropped into the chair.

 “He died.”

 “No, he didn’t just die,” snapped Trixie. “He blew up. His body burst like a ripe watermelon dropped from a height. But he coped with the possession. The demons had been driven back to the not-world.”

 “What demons?”

 “Which do you think?” asked Trixie, mockingly. “They have presented themselves to you already.”

 “Ah, yes,” Trotbolt stood up and put his hoof on Trixie’s shoulder. “So you have to finish the job,” he said. “That job which your Star Swirl the Bearded began.”

 “Finish the job!” Trixie no longer reigned over her voice as the immense stream of irony flowed from her lips. “It's just that I don’t know whether you heard me the first time, what they called Star Swirl the Bearded ? Holy! The Hoof of Celestia! Tamer of demons! He was the best, the greatest, the strongest. His power was like a storm. And me? I am nobody, damn it!”

 Trotbolt tugged at her collar and lifted himself from the chair. His eyes narrowed with rage.

 “So try your best, Ms. Trixie,” he hissed. “Because we will be very unhappy if you would allow our Lady’s daughter to die.”


* * *

Trixie was sitting at the table, books piled next to her. Her eyes stung. She felt a dull pain under the breastbone and a nausea swept over her so powerful that she refrained from vomiting only with difficulty, but she read. She barely understood those spells, prayers, and formulas. She almost wept when it became clear that what she took for the original Census of Demons was only a copy in some long-forgotten language. She found an amazing black book, written in blood-red, shiny letters, which she had never even seen. She was surprised, because the volume was not from her collection, nor had she ordered it. But as she studied volume after volume, tossing the pages with trembling hooves, she was aware of one thing: her preparations were as effective as an attempt to stop a storm by a filly building a wall of sand. Azhael, Azdrubal, and Adahal were not the most powerful of demons. There were even more terrifying entities with much greater power.

But these particular creatures were characterized by malice, and exceptionally strong desire to escape from the world-not. Besides: it was a trio. Not one weak poltergeist, but three hungry soul-thieves, which some researchers allocated in a fifth and sometimes sixth circle. These demons probably remembered the humiliation they received from Star Swirl perfectly. They were furious. Trixie chose to not imagine what they would do to a false Exorcist. If she was lucky, she would end like Star Swirl: quick, merciful death. Bam, and one is gone, then ponies with rags and shovels would collect the debris from the walls and floor.

 Trixie pressed her cheek against the cold table and started to cry. She sobbed like a filly and wailed as she choked on her own tears. She suspected that the room might have an opening through which she could be observed, but she didn’t care anymore. Trixie almost regretted that, in the dungeons, she hadn’t allowed The Lady to simply drown her in the canals. It would certainly be better than facing three angry demons.

 Then, at the moment of her deepest despair, she heard a voice. It wasn’t coming from the room, but from her head. It was calm, cool, and belonged to a stallion in the prime of his life. It was full of power and majesty and a note of latent pain.

 “Trixie,” said the voice. “Listen to me carefully, my little pony, if you want to live.”

 “Who... Who are you?” she whispered and immediately covered her mouth with her hoof. “I am crazy,” she said to herself in despair. “My Goddess, I'm going insane...”

 Maybe it’s better, she thought, perhaps madness is a good way to defend against the pain.

 “Trixie,” he repeated with emphasis and slight impatience. “You're not crazy. Listen to me carefully, because I cannot stay long. The Black Book. Do you see my book?”

 “Your book? Your...” She realized suddenly. “I have a black book, but I don’t understand…”

 “Shut up and listen! I need blood, Trixie. On each page of the book, a drop of blood. Do it today, in the dark. Think about me. Think of me, Trixie, about the stallion who wrote bloody letters in the book... Merge. You and me...” The voice weakened, as if it was moving away. “Do it if you want to beat them.”

 Trixie stared dumbfounded at a book with a black leather frame, from which now pulsed a dark glow. She touched the cover and with a hiss drew her hoof back. The leather was cold like ice.

 “Insane,” she said with conviction. “I’m completely insane.”

 But she knew that in spite of everything, she would do as the voice commanded. Anyway, how much harm could a drop of blood on the dead pages of an unknown book might do? How much worse could it be than it already is? And if she wandered further into madness, it would probably be easier to bear what was inevitable.

 She wrapped her cloak around a hoof and opened the book through it. Yet she felt that icy touch. She could swear that she had never seen similar letters, if those were letters at all. The pages were deprived of drawings or diagrams, filled instead with row after row with small, precise handwriting. On some pages, there were only headings with a more elaborate and decorative style.

 And suddenly a strange vision flashed through Trixie’s mind. She saw a chamber where, behind a large table, sat a figure in a dark coat with a hood thrown over his head. Trixie couldn’t see his face. She saw a goose quill levitating in front of him. He wrote down something on the pages of the book, quietly and meticulously. She saw frozen droplets of red ink on the quill. And then the vision faded as unexpectedly as it came.

 Trixie knew too much and read too many books in her life to ignore this kind of revelation. Had she seen the past? The mysterious author of the book? And if it...? Her heart started to beat faster full of hope. And if that was Star Swirl the Bearded? Had the spirit of the great unicorn mage returned to give tips on how to deal with demons?

 “Whoever you are,” she said to the void, “help me, and I'll do whatever you want.”

 Trixie had long lost the sense of day and night because there were no windows, and meals were brought to her regardless of the time when she requested them. But the voice in her head did not want to perform the ritual at night. It was enough that she would be in the dark. Trixie decided that she would take this opportunity. It was incredible and inscrutable, but it was still a chance. She took a table knife used to sharpen the quill- they aren’t afraid that I'll cut my veins?—then levitated the black book with her into the bedroom, leaving the candles in the office chamber. Trixie sat on the bed and put the book in front of her. She then took the knife and cut her front leg. It had been too much, because all of her body was shaking. She felt her sticky blood flow. Though the cover was already dirty with blood, she opened the book and touched every page with her hoof.

 Of course, it is more than one drop on each page, but it can’t hurt, she thought. She prayed. She pleaded. It seemed to her that she had a vision again. It was short, like a flash, and it again showed the stallion in the hood, sitting at his desk and writing bloody signs with a quill. The stallion suddenly stopped writing and turned his head slightly, but she still didn’t see his face. Trixie didn’t know why, but she realized that she did not want to see it.

 The volume was thick, and Trixie tried to be as accurate as possible. It took a long time before all the pages were marked with blood, but she finally finished, and with a pleading sigh, she slammed the cover.

 “It is done,” she said to herself. “There is nothing more I can do.”

 “It is done,” said the voice in her head, like a strong and resounding echo of the stone walls.

 Trixie shuddered, scared, but nobody said anything else. The unicorn came out of the bedroom and narrowed her eyes. The glow of candles struck her eyes that were accustomed to the darkness. She looked at her hoof and saw that it was covered in blood. She put the book back on the desk, and only then she realized that the book was no longer black. It was purple now. It was not icy anymore, instead, it seemed to emanate a delightful warmth.

 “I couldn’t have dirtied it that much,” she muttered.

 But the volume just was purple, not dirty purple. The cover looked like a glass window in a pool full of blood. Trixie cautiously opened the book. The pale yellow parchment wasn’t stained at all. The writings shimmered with a crimson glow.

 “My Goddess,” she said to herself. “I did... Something.”

 She wasn’t ignorant enough to not realize that she had just performed a magical rite. But she cared only about one thing at that moment: gaining power to fight the demons. Meanwhile, she hadn’t felt any new strength, knowledge, or grace. She hoped that she might be able to decipher the scarlet letters now, but no, they were still nothing more than intriguing symbols.

 Suddenly someone pushed the door of her chamber. Trotbolt came with two servants.

 “Again!” he roared. “The demons returned!” He saw Trixie’s bloodied hoof and grabbed her. “Tried to leave us?” he hissed furiously. Trixie didn’t understand what he was talking about, then she pulled her hoof in a defensive gesture.

 “It’s nothing.”

 Trotbolt stared at her for a moment, then slapped her on the back.

 “All right,” he said calmly. “Come on. Tell us what to do.”

 “Nothing,” boomed the voice in her head. “Keep only our book. Do not give it to anyone.

 “Nothing!” Trixie repeated, though her heart sank.

 Maybe the sacred chalk from Canterlot? she asked in her mind.

 “Nothing?” Trotbolt marveled. ”Hmmm... You are the expert,” he added after a moment, but it was clear that he was not convinced. “Surely you know what you are doing?”

 “I know,” nodded Trixie. “In this book, I found an ancient ritual to cast out demons. Perhaps it will succeed.”

 Now she could lie, because it was all the same. If anything went wrong and she was lucky, there would only be memories left of a lowly, yet bold blue unicorn.

 “I'm with you,” said the voice with a soothing tone. “Don’t be afraid, Trixie. I'm with you and in you. If you die, I will disappear. And that I will not allow, for our appearance here is part of a grand plan that must succeed...”

 Trixie involuntarily sighed with relief. That was something! If the creature, speaking from the depths of her mind, depended on Trixie’s life, it would try to defend her. The only question was: Does it have enough power to resist three mighty demons?

 “Mighty?” the voice sneered. “Trixie, my friend. How weak and fragile did you ponies become, if you consider such demons to be powerful! If only you could see...” The voice stopped. “No, you could not stand it,” he said to himself.

 “What would I not stand?”

 “What?” Trotbolt asked nervously. They walked quickly through narrow, empty corridors.

 “No, nothing, just talking to myself.”

 “Visions,” the voice explained. “You would not stand certain images. And I do not want you to go mad.” Trixie heard a note of dark amusement.

 They stopped in front of a big double wooden door. Trotbolt pushed them, and Trixie’s heart froze. But that wasn’t the right room yet. There were just a few desperate and crying maidservants, and against the wall stood a gray stallion in a black coat with a dazzling white ruff.

 “Gaspar,” Trotbolt said to him. “The exorcist is ready. Is she in there?” Trixie guessed that he thought of the Lady.

 “I didn’t let her.” Gaspar shook his head. “If she wants, she can take my head. But I didn’t let her in there.”

 “Very good. Let's go.”

 The three of them went into the room. On the bed and pillows lay a filly. Her gaze followed them with malicious yellow eyes as they entered. Her face was drenched with sweat and horribly distorted.

 “Gaspaaar,” she said, dragging the soft syllables. “Naughty, Gaspar! You like when mares scream, don’t you? I can see your desires...”

 Gaspar leaned back against the wall and mumbled something to himself. The demon laughed.

 “And Trotbolt is here,” said the filly with demon voice. “Languorous, pretty Trotbolt, every night dreams about his mistress. Would you like to have her Trotbolt? I can give her to you. Faithful, loving, obedient. You just need to...”

 Trixie shouted. She didn’t want to shout, but she shouted. Not with her voice, but the voice of the one who lived in her. Not her words, but his words, she spoke. She didn’t even understand what this scream meant. But the demon jerked back.

 “Who are you?” he asked after a while, slowly and calmly.

 Azdrubal, thought Trixie, now he speaks to me.

 “THE GREAT AND POWERFUL TRIXIE came to banish you, demon!” she said, swallowing hard. “She will force you to free this innocent filly and throw you away into cursed oblivion.”

 Filly watched her for a long time through demonic yellow eyes. Someone who was in Trixie, hid so deeply that she didn’t feel even a shadow of his presence.

 “You're nobody,” Azdrubal said with disdain. Now he was neither surprised nor alarmed. “Although I wonder where you learned the Words. Let me think about what I shall do with you. What will I do to you for the next several thousand years.” He laughed, and from Sun Glimmer flowed a thick yellow trickle of saliva. Despite that fact that she was a few steps from the bed, Trixie felt the nauseating stench of rot.

 “You brought an exorcist,” Azdrubal said with the quiet voice of a well-educated stallion. “And you will be severely punished. You a brought fake exorcist, a fraud and a braggart. So for that folly you will be punished further. However, the most severely punished, will be her!” Sun Glimmer pulled her hoof and pointed right at Trixie.

 And then she felt the stranger appearing in her again. Once again he took control of her body.

 “Don’t worry,” he said with a calming tone, because this unexpected apparition scared Trixie. But she withdrew, because she knew that the stranger must have the strength to effectively lead the fight. Again she heard herself speaking some unknown words. Words that not only she didn’t know, but filled her with irrational fear. Words that crawled out of her mouth like a streak of black smoke. Words like enraged, venomous snakes with gaping mouths.

 The demon screamed and curled up in the bed. He began to shrilly wheeze, and from the filly’s mouth flowed streams of, not only malodorous saliva mixed with bile, but also shiny vomit. Trixie felt that she hovered somewhere on the ceiling, watching the whole scene from above. She saw herself, a blue mare, handsome enough, but with a fierce, cruel face.

 Do I really look like that? she thought in panic. She saw the filly cowering on the bed, and Gaspar trembling against the wall. Trotbolt was staring at everything in suspense. She saw how the flame of candles started to pale, and the darkness thickened in the chamber.

 Trixie stretched out her hoof. There was no trace of blood on it or even a scar. She touched the filly’s forehead. Three demonic votes screamed. Gaspar fell to the floor and from his ears black, thick blood flowed. Trotbolt writhed in a corner and tried to catch a breath like a fish on land. The three black creatures jumped like flashes of light towards Trixie, but she smashed them beneath her hooves. The flames of candles lit up again, and on the bed laid a crying and sorrel filly. She was a pretty filly with a delicate face and blue eyes.

 “Everything is all right, baby.” Trixie sat on the bed and hugged the child. She put her arms around Sun Glimmer and nestled her. “Everything is all right,” she repeated.

 “Time for our reward, Trixie,” said lazily the voice in her head. “It wasn’t hard, but...”


 Servants ran into the room and lifted Trotbolt, and Gaspar from the floor. Two young mares hugged Sun Glimmer, and started to speak softly to her.

 “From the Lady,” said the voice in her head. “We will need her to achieve certain goals.”


 “Trixie, do you intend to repeat each word after me? Demonstrate a bit of intelligence. The job is done and now we look forward to the prize. The queen of Cloudbergen’s underworld. Ha! She may be a useful tool.”

 “A tool?” Trixie repeated again. She couldn’t imagine that the sinister ruler of Cloudbergen could be a tool in anypony's hooves, and especially in her hooves.

 “For the love of Luna.” The voice sighed. “I see a lot of work awaits us, but we will dedicate ourself to it with devotion.”

 Trixie didn’t know why, but somehow, she didn’t like those words.

 “Where have they gone?” she asked to change the subject. “Have you sent them to the world-not?”

 “We did,” the voice gently corrected her. “Do not forget about your role, my friend. But no. Do not waste power you can use. Don’t you know where they are? Take a careful look!”

 At first Trixie didn’t understand what the voice was thinking about, but someone gently led her towards these recesses of her mind which she didn’t even know. And there she saw three shackled, tamed, defenseless, but immensely furious forms.

 “Here they are,” said the voice. “We locked them in a cage, Trixie. I will release them when it’s necessary. Like attack dogs, lunging and returning as ordered. No power should be thoughtlessly wasted.”

 “Dear Celestia.” Trixie retreated in panic, because she could not even look at what was hidden in her mind. “Who are you? Who is able to wield such power? Even Star Swirl...”

 “Star Swirl...” snorted the voice mockingly, but with amusement, “was a powerful wizard, master of my master, but he was only a wizard and his knowledge about demons was limited, not to say ignorant. You really don’t know who I am, my friend Trixie?”

 Trixie already suspected who was her savior, but this idea was too bold and too cruel to verbalize it.

 “You see,” the voice continued, “Wise books say that a great evil, can be combated only by an even greater evil.” He laughed, as if what he said was very funny.

 “So you are...” Words stuck in Trixie’s throat.

 “Yes. I’m...” the voice replied.


* * *

Trixie stood on the balcony of the tower, watching over the city of Cloudbergen with the eyes of the necromancer she had unwittingly let take residence within her. In the darkest recesses of her mind was the muffled and tinny shrieks of the demons the being had cast out of the filly, but those were quieted with a simple thought.

 She wondered if she had made the right choice. Was the sacrifice of part of herself worth it all to keep living? Were the endless rewards from The Lady worth bearing another soul? What more would it ask from her? Would she live to regret all this? As she looked down from the tower, she realized it would take only a step and everything would be gone forever. All her problems solved in a single flight from the tower.

 “Don’t think you can break our bargain that easily,” said the voice.

 “I would never,” said Trixie. “You’ve given me so much, and yet, I know so little of what you want with this world. Do you really need a charlatan like me to help you?”

 “My dear Trixie,” replied the voice. “You really underestimate yourself. I see your full potential. How ‘Great and Powerful’ you can be. To be truthful, this is the only reason why your mind is not down there with those three. I will find myself a proper body, don’t worry. Of course those demons won’t come with me, but be not afraid, I have a proposition for you. Become my apprentice and I will show you the true power of unicorn magic. I will show you the flames of magic which you so much desire. As I said, you have potential to be very powerful, and no power should be thoughtlessly wasted. Of course you can always try to jump.”

 “No, no,” said Trixie. “I rather like you. Together, I think we’re going to make a great team.” She chuckled with a sly smile, and as the sun set in the distance, Trixie considered her new options.

 “Let’s start then, my young apprentice, there ain't no rest for the wicked.”


Special thanks to: ManestreamMMR, Vanner and Vimbert for making it worth reading . Comments and feedback are appreciated.