Tags: Alternate Universe, Dark, Romance, Tragedy
At a fair held in the town of Dappleshore, Twilight stumbles upon something from her family's past and is drawn to investigate. But will she succumb to its sinister influence, and can Trixie and Luna set their differences aside to help her?
The title and certain themes were inspired by the song Filistata by Stolen Babies. The plot is loosely based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft.
Also available on FiMFiction. Featured on Equestria Daily
“The Great and Powerful Trixie presents, live on the main stage of the Canterlot Royal Theater: The Fillystata, a magical puppet show! One time only! Come one, come all, and witness the story of the century!”
Ponies from all over Equestria trickle into the grand hall of the old prestigious theater. A buzzing of eager voices sends trembling echoes through the room as everypony settles down in front of the large stage. As the lights dim, all voices fade to silence. Anticipation rises until finally the curtains part, and a lone unicorn in a purple cape and pointy hat steps out upon the floor in front of the audience. Bathed in a pale blue glow, like a star in the dark, she speaks.
“Good ponyfolk of Equestria, mares and stallions, fillies and gentlecolts. Tonight you will bear witness to a story unlike any before told upon this or any stage. A story both terrifying and true, whose roots reach back through the mists of time.”
“Yet we begin our tale closer to the present, in the fields outside the humble village of Dappleshore where the fabulous Fabled Filly Fair is held each spring. Here our hapless heroine, Twilight Sparkle, and her ragtag pony friends from Ponyville have gone together for a weekend of fun and festivities.”
“But lo! Behind the idyllic scenery of this countryside funfair, something sinister is weaving the first strands of its insidious web.”
The blue unicorn raises her hooves in a dramatic gesture, and the scene behind her lights up.
“And now she shall make her puppets … dance!”
The smell and taste of apples, cinnamon, and the sweetest crust combined in perfect harmony to entice and delight. It had been a treat, but not for long. Instead, the thick sweetness now clung to Twilight's nose and mouth, becoming less pleasant over time.
“Ugh, when will I learn?” she sighed to herself as she reflected upon how silly she had been to enter a pie eating contest with Pinkie Pie and Soarin' of all ponies. But who could say no to Pinkie Pie and a famous—and handsome—Wonderbolt stallion?
Twilight chuckled in spite of the stabs of pain each movement caused to her over-filled stomach. Sometimes she could be such a silly filly, but who said a pony couldn't dream?
She needed air and to get away from the marketplace with all its food and temptations for a time. Maybe she could find Fluttershy somewhere in the fields outside the fair.
Applejack had invited Rainbow Dash and Spitfire to the grand opening rodeo, while Rarity and Spike were busy entertaining the younger ponies. Breakneck action and loud cheering, or lots and lots of wild fillies and colts romping about, none of that appealed to Twilight's stomach right now.
Fluttershy on the other hoof sounded like just the kind of medicine she needed. Rest and quiet was the best cure she could imagine.
Twilight trotted off down a trail towards the edge of the festival area, passing by a large tent from which a voice could be heard. Twilight paused and listened. The voice, both loud and dramatic, sounded vaguely familiar. Twilight walked up and peeked inside the tent.
A crowd of ponies was gathered around a small stage. On this stage, a blue unicorn was in the middle of what looked like a kind of magical puppet show.
“Trixie?” Twilight muttered the name. The last time Twilight had seen the show mare was when that Ursa Minor rampaged through town. Trixie was still going at it, putting on shows and trying to impress ponies, from the looks of it.
“… but only the Great and Powerful Trixie saw the signs of the impending darkness,” Trixie boasted up on the stage.
Intrigued and curious, Twilight walked into the tent and found a spot in the back where she could see the stage. What could Trixie be up to this time?
Twilight glanced over the heads of the crowd. As she did, another unicorn near the stage turned to look directly at her. Her coat and mane were an unfamiliar dark blue. Twilight smiled a little uncertainly at the attention from the stranger and turned back to watch the show.
Only one puppet was on the scene at the moment, resembling Trixie herself. Strings were pulled expertly by magic, and more puppets appeared to fill the roles of the narrative as the show unfolded. Twilight had to admit that, if nothing else, Trixie was quite the skilled show pony. Too bad she was also such a terrible loudmouth.
“The ponies of Ponyville were too deep in their revels and blind to her warnings. The Great and Powerful Trixie knew she had to take matters into her own hoof if fair Equestria was to be saved.” The lights in the room dimmed, and stars appeared on the scene around a bright glowing moon. “And so she watched as the stars aligned, awaiting the final moment when the dark mare would make her escape and cover the lands in eternal night.”
Twilight's curiosity and confusion grew as she began to recognize the tale. Was Trixie really foolish enough to try this of all tales? The crowd murmured skeptically as well, but Trixie continued undeterred.
A puppet of a dark mare, Nightmare Moon, rose out of the shadows on stage. “With the wicked mare's return and Celestia nowhere to be found, the ponies of Ponyville cowered in the darkness brought upon them. The Great and Powerful Trixie stood alone to defend the land.”
The Trixie puppet took over the stage again. “Trixie knew that she needed the most powerful magic known to ponykind to defeat her foe. Trixie had no recourse but to locate the fabled Elements of Harmony and harness their raw magical power. Only that way could the evil Nightmare be vanquished.”
“Facing great peril, but knowing she could not fail, Trixie went deep into the heart of the dreaded Everfree Forest in search of the ruins of the Ancient Pony Sisters. Trixie’s vast knowledge had revealed these ruins to be the last known place where the Elements were kept.”
“The twisted Nightmare saw the threat to her rule and threw many a frightful creature and obstacle at the Great and Powerful Trixie. Every path was littered with dangers, and only one with Trixie’s awesome magic could have passed such challenges.”
Puppets of manticores and vicious sea serpents danced around on stage, each destroyed in a grand puff of smoke as Trixie the puppet advanced through the story. Twilight watched the immensely silly performance in a mixture of disbelief and amusement. If it had actually been truthful, or just about any other tale, it would have been quite good.
“Nothing could stand between the Great and Powerful Trixie and the Elements of Harmony. When she finally reached the ruins, the wicked mare in the moon herself appeared to challenge the might of the Great and Powerful Trixie.”
“But Trixie was clever. Behind her enemy were the elements, sitting unguarded upon their pedestals. All Trixie needed was to grab them and claim their power as her own. A plan formed in her mind, and she knew what she had to do.”
“With an ingeniously simple mind trick, Trixie distracted the dark mare. It would indeed be a grave insult to Nightmare Moon to reveal just how simple the trick was, as she swallowed it hook, line and sinker. And so, with her enemy distracted, the Great and Powerful Trixie wasted no time in seizing the Elements.”
“Using her mighty magic, Trixie lifted the elements off their pedestals while keeping the mare distracted from what was transpiring behind her. A mere second later, as the elements sailed through the air, the Great and Powerful Trixie showed her hoof. Leaping into the air, she grabbed the elements before Nightmare Moon could realize her mistake.”
“The ancient power of the Elements surged through the Great and Powerful Trixie!”
The puppet of Trixie was going wild on stage, and with a mighty thunderclap, she smote the Nightmare puppet. “Vanquished! The Great and Powerful Trixie unleashed the terrible power of the Elements and brought the evil mare of the moon to her knees.”
“As the Great and Powerful Trixie stood above her, the dark mare begged of her to spare her life, promising great riches and a place of honor by her side. But the Great and Powerful Trixie saw through her lies and wanted none of it. She raised her hooves to deliver the final blow just as the first light of the sun spread across our fair Equestria.”
The room lit up once again, and the Trixie puppet lifted her hooves in a dramatic pose above the Nightmare puppet. Just then the grand figure of Celestia's puppet rose behind them both. “ 'Let her go. She has learned her lesson,' the princess demanded, and the Great and Powerful Trixie bowed to the ruler of Equestria.”
“The dark mare had been broken, but Trixie saw that her wickedness went deep, and only through the pity of Celestia was she spared her fate. Thus ended the short reign of Nightmare Moon at the hoof of the Great and Powerful Trixie, in whose light you may bask tonight!”
The blue unicorn bowed majestically to the audience. Twilight still couldn't believe what she had just heard. The crowd seemed equally confused and outraged. A few of the ponies near Twilight muttered about “lies” and “waste of time”.
Trixie looked out over the audience with that challenging look Twilight had come to know and expect. “You don't believe the Great and Powerful Trixie? Were any of you actually there, hmm? If anypony thinks they can tell the story better, I hereby challenge you—” Here she pointed a hoof at the audience “—to come up here and put your hoof where your mouth is.”
Twilight didn't know if she should speak up. Trixie was clearly not aware of her presence among the crowd, or she wouldn't have put out that challenge. At least Twilight wanted to think that Trixie wasn’t that dumb. It all seemed so stupid, and thankfully no pony appeared to actually buy into Trixie's lies this time. There was little to be gained from challenging Trixie's tale.
Trixie laughed haughtily. “No? I didn't think so either. Every word I speak is the truth. The vile and twisted Nightmare Moon was defeated at the hoof of the Great and Powerful Trixie. That she now lives the high life in Canterlot is not on this unicorn's head, and she better not try her little games again while the Great and Powerful Trixie watches.”
Twilight was just about getting enough, despite her best attempts to not let herself get riled up, when a gasp went through the audience. They were all now staring in even greater disbelief at where the puppets had freed themselves of their bonds. Their long threads whirled around, and faster than Trixie could turn or react she found herself dangling in the air, tied up like a calf in a rodeo show.
“What the—” Trixie yelped as several strings wrapped around her muzzle to silence her. Trixie struggled while the audience watched the Nightmare puppet jump up on Trixie's barrel and trot up to look down into her confused eyes.
Twilight thought she detected a hint of fear in Trixie’s wide eyes.
“All talk and tricks!” The voice of Nightmare Moon seemed to come from the wooden mouth of the puppet as it sneered at its helpless prey. “All you should be watching is your mouth, foal!”
Trixie cried out with a muffled, pitiable sound.
“Isn't this what you wanted? A dark and vengeful Nightmare Moon to vanquish? So vanquish me! Come on, you worthless piece of hide! Destroy me!” the puppet dared her as more strings swirled and wrapped around Trixie's neck. “Am I not but a simple puppet to you? Fit only to be mocked and shunned?”
Trixie cried and closed her eyes as the strings tied around her neck. A tiny trickle of blood ran down her neck as the strings tightened and cut into her flesh.
Twilight watched in shock and horror. Trixie's face was growing red. Her horn glowed, but it was evident that she couldn't focus her mind on her magic or overcome whatever was commanding the strings. What was going on? Who was controlling the puppets? Twilight was as confused as the rest of the crowd, who all stood in petrified helplessness before the unfolding of the scene in front of them.
Trixie sputtered and whined as the puppet continued unabated. “Well, Great and Powerful Trixie? Will you really let a mere puppet defeat you?”
Twilight finally shook herself free of the stupor. Trixie was dying right in front of her eyes. She might never have liked Trixie, but this was too much. She couldn't stand by and do nothing.
Knowing time was running out, Twilight's horn lit up, and she felt her stomach churn as, in an instant, she found herself on the stage next to Trixie. Batting away the Nightmare puppet and grabbing Trixie, they both disappeared in a second flash of light.
The crowd gasped at the disappearance.
* * *
Twilight and Trixie appeared in a flash out in the open, in a small space between stalls on the outskirts of the fair. A few ponies stopped and stared, but Twilight paid them no heed. With her heart racing, Twilight snapped the strings around Trixie's neck and tried to get eye contact, but Trixie didn't move or respond. Her purple eyes were staring blankly past Twilight.
With a hoof against Trixie's neck and an ear to her mouth, Twilight searched and found a weak pulse, but the unicorn was clearly not breathing. Twilight pulled back Trixie's head, leaned down and placed her mouth over Trixie's mouth and nose, forming a seal as she repeatedly breathed fresh air into the unicorn's lungs.
Trixie came to life with a gasp and struggled against the binds on her legs in a panic.
“Easy … easy!” Twilight said, trying to calm and hold Trixie still.
“T-Twilight!?” Trixie looked up at Twilight, a confused mix of anger and relief on her face.
Twilight was too relieved herself to be annoyed at Trixie's show. “You need to lie still!” she commanded while trying to untie Trixie's legs at the same time.
Trixie scrunched up her face. “You … You did this! You tried to kill me!”
Twilight shook her head, shocked at the accusation. “I saved you! I swear I would never hurt anypony!”
Trixie looked like she was about to respond but instead fell limp and reached for her head with a shaky hoof. “I … I … You leave Trixie alone!” she cried, clearly too distressed to think clearly.
Twilight looked at her with concern. She tried her best to be comforting. “You'll be fine. You just need to take it easy.”
Trixie didn't respond as two nurse ponies came galloping along with a few bystanders who had called for help. Twilight stepped back and watched them carry Trixie off. She decided not to follow. It had no doubt been a humiliating, not to mention frightening, affair for Trixie.
Twilight glanced at the stalls around her. She had definitely left the main parts of the fair; this place looked like a hodgepodge of stalls selling Celestia only knew what. Walking along the winding paths between the stalls, Twilight looked over all the various things being offered for sale, trying to get Trixie out of her mind.
A stack of books in a nearby stall caught her eyes as she passed it by. She had always enjoyed browsing through markets and antiquaries for old and unusual books. Maybe she would be lucky today.
An elderly unicorn with a graying, once vividly red mane sat behind the stall. She looked up and smiled as Twilight walked up to look at the books. Twilight gave her a friendly smile back and began sorting through the stack.
As Twilight glanced over the books, a familiar voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Kusalimiwa, or greetings, Miss Twilight Sparkle. Has the day brought you trouble?”
Twilight looked up and smiled as she recognized the familiar stripes of the zebra standing next to her. She hadn't noticed Zecora sneak up on her while she was busy looking through the stack of books. “Oh, hello Zecora. What trouble do you mean?”
Zecora tilted her head at Twilight, giving her a worried look. “Above your head looms a heavy cloud. I tell you my friend, an ill omen is such a shroud.”
Twilight shrugged a bit and turned back to the books. She could only assume her worries about Trixie were showing through. “Oh, that. I just had a little scare earlier, but it's alright again.”
Zecora nodded, and Twilight continued her perusing of the books. “I didn't know you were here at the fair, Zecora,” she said after a brief pause. “I didn't think you were the festival type.” A small book bound in black caught Twilight's eye, and she pulled it out carefully from its hiding place.
Zecora laughed. “My friend, I am not as coy; these markets I quite enjoy. Great treasures you can find, and things that ponies left behind.”
Twilight smiled and nodded in agreement. She knew exactly what Zecora meant. She ran a hoof over the rough and worn cover of the book she was holding. It looked very old but almost untouched. A word was stitched into the cover.
“Fillystata,” she muttered to herself as she read it. Something deep within her stirred at the word, a kind of recognition, but she couldn't place it.
Carefully she opened the book and flipped through the pages. It appeared to be the journal of somepony. Every page was full of small, tightly written text, images and drawings of a great variety, cutouts from papers, and copies of what looked like archival records. It was difficult to read or make sense of at a glance.
Inside the front cover, Twilight noticed a name scribbled in black: “Midnight Sparkle.”
Twilight read it again. It did say Sparkle. Could there be a connection to her own family? It was not so common among most ponies to keep a family name like that, but both Twilight’s mother and grandmother were called Sparkle, as far back as Twilight had actually studied the line. Her grandmother had once told her that it was an old family tradition, and her mother had recently begun poking her about her own plans. Twilight didn’t know what to say or do, except blush and tell the truth, which was that she had no plans.
She glanced up at the old pony sitting in the shadow of the stall, peacefully knitting a sweater with a strange three-headed beast on the front. “Excuse me, do you know about this book?”
The pony got out of her rocking chair and walked slowly up to Twilight, narrowing her eyes and adjusting her small, round glasses to look at the book Twilight was holding up. After a moment she looked up at Twilight with a gentle nod. “That little one turned up in our attic when my sister and her youngins were over to help me clean it out. I thought it was a funny little thing, but my sister insisted I get rid of it. Can you believe she wanted me to burn it?”
The old mare seemed eager to chat, but Twilight's eyes were more focused on the book than on the pony she was talking to. “Why is that?”
The older unicorn gave a shrug of her shoulders. “Oh, silly old tales I reckon’. My sister thinks that name on the front is cursed or somethin’, but mind you, no pony wants to talk about it. She's a nice mare, my sister, just a little …” She trailed off before smiling sadly. “Still, I have no use for the book, and you seem interested. If you like, you can have it for only two bits.”
Twilight gave the old pony the coins and gazed back down at her new purchase. She had never had much time for curses and old mares’ tales. “Do you know the name Midnight Sparkle?”
The unicorn took the coins with a smile and looked thoughtful. “I think one of my husband’s brothers married a Sparkle once. Midnight … no, Evening I believe her name was,” she said and walked back to her chair under the shade of her lean-to.
“Evening Sparkle?” Twilight perked up.
The mare turned around and looked at her. “I think so, yes. Your friend there said your name is Twilight; seems like a family theme, have I got it right?”
“My great-grandmother was called Evening.” Twilight held the book tighter, as if it might fly away from her. “But I never knew her. She passed away before I was born.”
“My, but the world is small.” The mare smiled. ”We must have gotten that book with one of the boxes back when my husband’s brother passed away. Oh the things we collect over the years, but I say it looks like this one’s ended up in good hooves.”
Twilight smiled at the elderly mare and thanked her as she turned around with her book. The mare nodded and returned to her knitting.
Zecora looked at the old book over her shoulder. “A treasure both alluring and antique. Beware what things of the past you seek.”
Twilight nodded, but she wasn't really paying attention. Who was Midnight Sparkle? Was there a relation? And what would her journal reveal? Deep within her heart, Twilight felt drawn to this little book and its secrets in ways which she had never felt drawn before.
It was late and beginning to rain as Twilight walked from the fair to the hotel room she had rented for the weekend. The area around Dappleshore was a vast marshland, and the local pegasus ponies ensured frequent downpours. Twilight would much sooner prefer a clear and silent night than a cold and stormy one, but it was not her job to dictate the weather.
She hurried on through the rain, careful to protect her new book under a coat so it didn't get wet. She had barely been able to think of anything else all day since she found it, and she looked forward to finally having some time to read it. Rainy nights were perfect for reading.
Twilight rounded a corner and paused when she saw another pony walking through the rain with her head bowed. Twilight slowed down to a trot, then stopped entirely as she watched Trixie walk along the street in the opposite direction.
Trixie looked sad and lonely as she walked with her head near the ground, her drenched mane clinging to her body. Only the thin wounds around her neck and hooves hinted at the earlier incident on stage.
“Trixie?” Twilight called out to her.
The other unicorn looked up, tried to straighten up a little and gave Twilight a not very convincing haughty look. The rain washing down her face did little to conceal the fact that she had been crying. “Leave Trixie alone, Twilight Sparkle. Can an honest pony not walk through the rain without getting pestered anymore?”
Twilight walked towards her. “Trixie, I'm not trying to be your enemy. I'm just worried for you, and I want to help.”
Trixie sneered and walked right past Twilight. “Trixie doesn't need your pity, or your help!”
Twilight hesitated, debating whether to follow. Finally she called out as Trixie slowly disappeared out of sight. “I'm staying at the hotel in town, room seventeen. You can drop by anytime.” She hoped Trixie heard it.
* * *
Twilight picked off a note that had been stuck to her door and closed the door behind her. She unfolded her book from the coat and placed it along with the note on the table next to the door while she dried herself. Once she was dry, Twilight read the note.
“Spike is sleeping in my room tonight. Poor thing fell asleep at the fair, and your door was locked when we got back. I wish you a restful night, and look forward to another splendid day tomorrow.
“Your friend, Rarity.”
Twilight smiled to herself as she thought of her number one assistant. Poor thing always fell asleep after a long day of activity.
Owlowiscious was sitting on the window sill and preening his feathers. No doubt the owl didn't want to get out in this weather. Twilight offered the large bird a little treat, picked up the book, and threw herself on the bed.
She ran her hoof slowly over the cover and the single word stitched on it. “Fillystata,” she muttered to herself, tasting the word and wondering why it seemed so strangely alluring and familiar.
She opened the book and began to read the first page, slowly deciphering the neat little letters. A brief note graced the top of the first page.
“For all my inquiries into this, my second great-grandmother's life and work remains largely hidden to me. It has been deliberately made so, I suspect, by those around me, both past and present.”
“I know not the source of this fascination of mine with Fillystata. Some would call it unhealthy or even unnatural, but something draws me to her and spurs me on in my research. I must redouble my efforts, and I shall, for myself, keep account of my findings herein lest my mind wanders and forgets.”
Twilight flipped through a few pages of cutouts from newspaper articles, archive records, and handwritten notes. A light knocking on the door broke her out of her thoughts. Twilight looked up and stuffed the book under her pillow before opening.
Out in the hall, a dark blue unicorn looked at Twilight in the flickering light of a lantern. Twilight recognized her from Trixie's show as the stranger in the audience who had looked at Twilight when she entered the tent. She seemed cold from the rain and a little timid as a gentle blue light shimmered across her features. The plain look of a unicorn was washed away to reveal a different and much more regal shape.
Luna's eyes didn't meet Twilight's as she bowed her head in shame. “I dare not face my sister, so I come to you instead to tell you that I am sorry and beg you to help me, Twilight Sparkle.”