The flight to Ponyville was much shorter than the one to Dappleshore, but Trixie was happy to make the journey aboard the royal carriage regardless. Luna even more so with her injuries. They didn't speak much during the ride. Instead, Trixie found her gaze drifting off, staring blankly at the fields passing by below her as her mind wandered.
She was so deep in thought that she barely noticed when they landed, and jumped a little when Luna gently nudged her. "I think it's best if we arrive on hoof. We get less attention that way," Luna said as they got out and thanked the two pegasi pulling the carriage.
Trixie watched them fly away, leaving the two alone on the small path winding towards Ponyville. Luna adjusted Trixie's cloak a little for her. They had decided it was best to wear a simple set of traveling cloaks to draw less attention. The clothes didn't exactly hide their identity from any ponies who decided to look closely, but it would hopefully prevent too many from doing so.
"Luna, can I ask you something?" Trixie asked quietly as they began walking slowly down the path.
Luna nodded, turning her head to smile at Trixie. "Of course, dear. Anything."
Trixie paused before speaking. "I understand if you don't want to talk about it, but … I have been wondering what it was like, all those years alone on the moon. A thousand years, that's … not something I can really imagine. It must have been horrible." For a while now the image of the purple filly all alone and lost in the darkness had been one of the primary thoughts occupying her mind.
Luna smiled sadly and glanced up at the sky. "It wasn't easy, but it wasn't as terrible as it may sound either. There's a reason the legends speak of Celestia imprisoning me in the moon, not on the moon. I didn't sit there all alone for a thousand years among barren rocks and dust. It was more like," she paused to think, "like a long, mostly dreamless sleep. And when I woke up, at least to a mind unclouded by Nightmare Moon's influence, I was back here in Equestria and my sister was there. I don't even remember anything of what I did as Nightmare Moon after our return. The hardest part came after her hold on me was broken. There was a lot I had to get used to, a lot of loss and changes." Luna looked down a little sadly at the dusty road.
Trixie nodded a little to herself, eyes on her hooves. "So … you don't remember anything?"
"I remember when I became Nightmare Moon the first time, what lead me there and what followed. I remember what I did before my banishment, and I remember some early dreams during the first decades of imprisonment. They were all filled with so much anger." She sighed deeply. "But after a while I suppose my mind just fell dormant and Nightmare Moon's hold on me strengthened until, even when we were released, I remained sleeping until the Elements broke the spell."
"You say Nightmare Moon was in control, and you said earlier that you suspect she may have been … passed to me with your blood. Who or what exactly is Nightmare Moon?" Trixie asked, finding herself wondering about so many things lately.
Luna's ears drooped, a look of shame. "I was always the more magically adept of me and Tia, and perhaps I could have defeated her back then. In a one on one match certainly. Maybe not now since she's had a thousand years while I slumbered, but before that. Contrary to popular belief I did not need Nightmare Moon in order to oppose my sister. But I had no desire to fight anypony, much less Tia. My only wish was to have a friend. I may have had the magic, but she always had the friends." Luna smiled a little sadly. "And as Twilight would have told me, magic isn't much without friends."
The sun still cast a lazy glow over the road in the early evening. Luna was silent a while before continuing. "So … I found a friend. Or she found me. Perhaps it was a little of both. There are … things out there beyond the stars. Things even older than my sister and I."
Trixie looked up at her. "I thought you and your sister created the sun and moon and all the stars."
Luna stopped and shook her head. "Heavens no! I don't even control the stars, they're just … backdrop. We are as much part of the world as you and everypony else. I don't know who, or what created it all, and it is not wise to dwell on such things. We are as old as the sun and moon respectively, we are their children in a way. As far as we know we have no other parents. But there are much older things that came before, and we have no special power over these things. Still, there are certainly … ancient and forbidden magics born from the secret studies of these alien things."
"When I felt lonely and unappreciated as a young mare, I studied these things to fill the void. I do not claim to understand all of it, I don't know if anypony can lay claim to such knowledge but I know it has a way of … taking over. It is dangerous to study because it is so easy to lose control, and then—" She sighed. "I don't know exactly what went wrong back then, but I lost control and what I thought would be a friend turned out to be a Nightmare who wanted a lot more than just a friend. I can not say what she truly is, other than the product of a lonely mind seeking a friend in all the wrong places."
Ponyville seemed somehow different from what Trixie recalled of her first visit, long ago. It was as if some part of its spirit had wilted away. Superficially it looked the same with ponies trotting about, busy with their daily chores, but underneath lurked a sense of loss, of something that could never be replaced.
Luna came to a halt and Trixie looked up at the large, hollow tree housing the library and once home of Twilight. Celestia had said Twilight's old assistant still worked there, but it looked closed. Luna knocked a few times while Trixie took a peek through a window. "I don't think anypony's home. Did Celestia say where else he might be?"
Luna shook her head and knocked again, harder, but still no reply came.
There was a slight screech as of something dragging against the gravel before coming to a stop. "Hey! What's up?" They turned to the young orange pegasus who was standing on a scooter surrounded by a small cloud of dust from her sudden stop. The filly tilted her head, then gave a smile of recognition. "Princess Luna, Trixie! I thought it was you under those cloaks. What are you doing here?"
Luna smiled and walked over to the young pegasus. "Scootaloo? It's good to see you. We were just looking for Spike, but it seems he's not here."
"Well of course he's not here now, it's late! He's probably on the apple farm with Applejack. I can show you the way if you think you can keep up?" The filly grinned.
"If it isn't too much trouble," Luna smiled.
"Pfft! I was going there anyway. Rainbow Dash promised she'd teach me some new tricks tonight." She got back on her scooter and set off on the beating of wings. "You better keep up!"
Trixie set off after her, followed by Luna. "So, how have you been?"
Scootaloo raced down the street, moving in and out between ponies who turned to watch the three, some shaking their hooves at the little speedster. "I'm cool. I mean …" She frowned but kept her focus on the road ahead. "I really miss Sweetie Belle and Twilight, but it's been crazy since they … you know. I sure don't want to end up like some of the others. But Rainbow Dash has been totally cool and helped me a lot."
"Some of the others?" Luna called, having to raise her voice a little to make sure she was heard over the rushing wind.
The orange pegasus winced. "Yeah. Just saying you should probably avoid Pinkie Pie if you ever drop by Sugarcube Corner. She gives me the chills. And Rarity's lost it too after what happened to her sister. She's gone and locked herself up in her boutique. I saw her through a window once, she looked awful, just …" She shivered and had to narrowly evade a cart full of carrots parked on the side of the road. "I miss them too but moping won't bring them back. That's what Rainbow Dash says! She and Applejack are the only two who keeps their cool."
"What about Fluttershy?" Trixie remembered the yellow pegasus she had met back in the royal gardens. "Do you know her?"
Scootaloo shrugged. "I barely ever see her. Always on her way somewhere else now."
"Hey, Scoot! Up here!" A rainbow blur descended from the sky over the apple orchards. "Who—Oh, it's you!" Rainbow Dash came to a halt in front of them and gave Trixie a cold stare.
Scootaloo stopped and smiled, then glanced between the rainbow mare and Trixie. "Uh, yes, this is Princess Luna and—"
"I remember her!" Rainbow Dash muttered. "The worthless showmare who humiliated us all and ran off with our best friend."
Trixie frowned. "Well, I certainly feel welcome now."
"Well, you're not!" Rainbow Dash flew in between Trixie and Scootaloo, puffing up her chest defiantly. "And if you think you can come here and use your devil charms on any more of my friends, then you better think again!"
Scootaloo tried to get around Rainbow Dash. "Hey, Rainbow Dash, calm down. She's cool, she saved me and Applebloom, remember?"
"Well, I don't trust her! I can't believe Twilight would run off with somepony like her!"
Trixie felt the anger rise inside her, like a dark fire eating away at her. A sudden urge to shut the pegasus up … maybe for good. She took a step forward, but paused. No, that wasn't like her at all. But she wasn't going to let her get away so easily either. She smirked and gave the other mare a taunting look. "Oh, you think she should have run off with somepony else? Is that it?"
"Calm down, dear," Luna said quietly, placing a hoof on Trixie's shoulder. "We didn't come to fight. Just let it lie."
Trixie felt the fires dim a little, but she couldn't stop. She had to show this foal. "I bet you're jealous!"
Rainbow Dash stared daggers at Trixie. "Oh, that's it! You better take that back, you—"
Rainbow's words were cut short as a lasso wrapped around her body and pulled her out of the air. "What in tarnation are y'all yelling about out here!" They all turned to the orange earth pony who was coming towards them, carrying a small purple and green dragon on her back. "Well?"
Luna stepped up quickly before Rainbow Dash or Trixie could speak. "I'm really sorry, miss. It seems our arrival opened a few old wounds."
Applejack paused, then quickly bowed and gave Rainbow Dash a stare. Rainbow Dash just sat down and crossed her hooves over her chest in a defiant posture. "Well, if Ah had known y'all was coming, Princess, ah would have chained up Rainbow here in the barn first. Ah'm mighty sorry for that, but Twilight's death's been hard on us all."
Luna smiled and gave Trixie a little nudge. Trixie forced a small smile, while her eyes were engaging in a war of stares with Rainbow Dash. Luna sighed and rubbed her head with a hoof "They're like little fillies."
Applejack laughed. "You have no idea! But shoot, Ah wish Ah had been warned y'all were coming."
"Celestia didn't send a letter?" Luna asked.
"Only just now," Applejack gave a nod at the dragon on her back, who had been busy watching the raging battle of stares between Rainbow Dash and Trixie.
Spike looked up. "Oh, yes, the letter." He fumbled a bit before holding up a scroll bearing the royal seal. "It only said she wanted me to go with you on some journey."
Applejack nodded. "It was a might sparse on details, if y'all don't mind me saying. What is this all about?"
"Trixie and I are going to visit Hoofswell, specifically its … asylum. There may be somepony there who can help us shed some much needed light on what happened with Twilight. We promised Celestia we would take others with us, in particular Spike to keep her updated along the way."
Rainbow Dash jumped up. "What?! I knew it, you're just here to take more of our friends away! Well, I'm not—"
Applejack grabbed her tail and pulled her back down. "Will you calm down, sugar cube!" She gave the rainbow mare a firm look, before turning back to Luna and Trixie. "Y'all sure you want to go digging in that mess? Ah mean, there's no reason to dwell on the past and all. What's done is done."
Luna nodded. "We are certain. There are questions we need answered, and we would appreciate both the company and help if you would join us. I mean, you were Twilight's closest friends."
Rainbow Dash scowled. "Well I'm not going anywhere! I promised Scoot here I'd look after her, and I sure never let a friend down." She glanced at Trixie, leaving the obvious accusation unspoken. Trixie was about to reply but closed her mouth as both Luna and Applejack gave her a cold stare.
Applejack shook her head. "Ah'm mighty sorry to say Ah can't go either. Ah have mah sister Applebloom to look after, and this one," she gave Rainbow a poke, "ain't much better. But Ah'm sure Spike here would be happy to get away for a while, and Ah could use one less head to keep count of."
Spike looked between Luna and Trixie. "Well … if Celestia wants me to go, then I will. And I'd do anything for Twilight, even though … even though she's gone." The dragon looked down sadly, but then looked back up as if remembering something. "Oh, but you've got to take Rarity too."
"Why, shoot, Ah nearly forgot about her," Applejack exclaimed. "And Pinkie Pie. We've been trying for weeks to get those two out of their holes, but they're more stubborn than a pair of mules. If y'all could take them with you, that'd do 'em some good, Ah reckon."
"Yes, that's the spirit! Let's just give up on all our friends and send them off to some far off place when they become a burden. That's what friends do," Rainbow Dash muttered under her breath.
Applejack rolled her eyes. "Will you get over yourself, Rainbow! You tried your best with Pinkie, but you know it ain't been working. Some fresh air and new sights will do her good, Ah'm sure. Rarity too, she really needs to get out of there and stop being such a burden on poor Fluttershy."
Trixie followed behind as Luna, with Spike riding on her back, stepped inside Ponyville's bakery. She didn't recall ever meeting Pinkie Pie, but her letters to Twilight had always been the most … colorful of the lot. Trixie wasn't sure what to expect, given what they had heard.
There was a clatter as a plump, rose-maned pony dropped a plate of cakes with a gasp. "Y-your Majesties!" she stammered and bowed. "What can we get such esteemed guests?"
Luna smiled politely. "Good evening. I hear a miss Pinkie Pie lives here? Is she available this evening?"
Mrs. Cake's ears drooped. "Oh … oh my … I-I'll try to make her presentable, Your Highness. Just give me some time."
Luna shook her head. "Don't worry, my good pony. We simply wish to talk with her. We hope she will consider coming with us on a little trip."
The baker blinked, then looked as if some realization dawned on her. "Oh … oh!" She looked down sadly at the cakes on the floor. "Has it … has it really come to that? Dearest me, I promised to take care of her, but heavens know it hasn't been easy. And now … well, we almost had to close the shop when she began scaring all the customers. Maybe … maybe it'll be for her best."
Luna looked confused, but Trixie quickly stepped up. "We are terribly sorry, madam. We promise that miss Pie will get the help she needs, you have our word. The Hoofswell Asylum has a long reputation for helping cases like these, and perhaps once she's feeling better she can return to you."
Luna nodded a little slowly. "Er, yes. Perhaps you would tell us where we can find her, and we'll go talk to her."
Mrs. Cake sniffed and sighed. "I-if you're sure. She's in her room, just up those stairs." She pointed at a flight of stairs. "Please, she's … not herself."
"You know, I almost wish that thing about putting Pinkie in an asylum wasn't a big fat lie you just gave Mrs. Cake," Spike said as they ascended the stairs.
Trixie raised an eyebrow at the dragon. "Oh? Why is that?"
Spike shivered as he peeked out over Luna's head. He didn't get to respond as Luna stopped and knocked on the door in front of them. "Miss Pinkie Pie?"
The door opened with a creak and a single cyan eye peeked out through the slight crack. Her deep pink hair hung around the face like a wet blanket and her equally pink coat seemed dull and messy. But worst was the joyless face and that blank stare. Trixie felt a slight shiver. For a second she thought at least it couldn't get any more uncomfortable, but she was wrong. The eye glanced over them once, twice, then lit up. The joyless face seemed to twist and contort in front of their eyes as a rather deranged grin formed on her lips. Spike shivered and buried himself in Luna's mane, while Trixie took a slight step back.
The door opened fully and the pink pony stepped out. "There you are! I'm so happy you could make it!" She dragged them both through the door and shut it behind them. Once inside the pink pony shoved them each a glass of punch and ushered them through the room to a table completely overflowing with sweets and colorful decorations.
Trixie and Luna could only stare in disbelief at the room. It was at once an utter mess and done up with more decorations than would be fitting for the whole town. Balloons, streamers, confetti, silly hats, flowers, and an endless supply of sweets which all worked to create an overpowering scent. Around the table were placed chairs, most of which were occupied by everything from a bag of flour to a stack of rocks, all wearing party hats.
One chair and its occupant drew immediate attention, however. Placed at the end of the table, evidently the "guest of honor", was a large ragged doll in the likeness of a lavender unicorn. Bits of hay stuck out of her here and there and it looked like she had been crudely pieced together from old bags by a highly unskilled hoof. The guest sitting on the chair opposite the doll was almost as odd, it was in fact a small alligator staring back at them with indifference.
Pinkie Pie walked around the table, pulling out chairs for them on each side of the Twilight doll. Evidently she had expected guests. "Have a seat! We'll have so much fun! Aren't you happy to see them too, Twilight?" The pink pony stuck a hoof out and made the doll nod enthusiastically. "Why yes! Yes, I've missed you two so much!"
Luna sat down slowly and Trixie followed, the two sharing looks. "Uh … yes." Luna struggled a bit to find words. "So how have you been, Pinkie?" The princess remembered the pink pony only briefly from the party she had thrown when Luna had been freed from Nightmare Moon's grip, but this party pony seemed quite different.
Pinkie stopped and flinched. "I'm great! And Twilight is great! We're having a delightful party! Aren't we?" She shoved them a pair of cherry cupcakes and looked at them with her big, deranged eyes.
Luna winced and put the cupcake down. "Pinkie … maybe we could … go outside?"
"I'm not going anywhere!" The pink pony stared at them maniacally, but it quickly returned to the deranged grin from before. "We're having a wonderful party here for our friend, Twilight. It's her big, special party, isn't it Twilight?" Again the doll nodded in agreement.
"Pinkie—" Luna tried to keep eye contact with the other pony, but it was admittedly difficult to not look away from those crazed eyes. "Pinkie … Twilight, she's … Pinkie, she's dead! Twilight is dead."
The deranged smile vanished from Pinkie's face, and she stared at Luna. "She most certainly is not! She's sitting right here." The doll nodded. "It's not very nice to joke about such things. Not fun at all!"
Luna opened her mouth again, but Trixie stopped her. She leaned in and whispered to Luna. "Let me handle this. I have an idea." Grabbing a silly hat, of which there were plenty, Trixie subtly covered her horn to conceal her magic as she reached out to control the doll next to her, like she had done so many times before with her puppets in her later shows.
The stuffed Twilight moved a little and spoke. "Hey, Pinkie …" The pink pony turned and blinked, staring at the puppet. Trixie winked at Luna and pretended to take a drink while Twilight spoke. "I just had an idea! Let's go on an adventure, it'll be fun! Just like we used to do, Pinkie."
"But … Twilight, your party? I made it just for you."
"And it's been a great party, Pinkie! You always throw the best parties, you know. But this'll be fun, and we can have lots of other parties when we get back. What do you say, Pinkie?"
Pinkie shuffled her hooves a little. "Can Gummy come too?"
Trixie blinked, having no clue who Gummy was. Twilight nodded slowly. "Uh … sure, the more the merrier they say! Why don't you and … Gummy go ahead with the princesses, and I'll catch up with you later? I have a few, er, things I need to do first."
The deranged grin returned as Pinkie scooped up the pet alligator and headed for the stairs. "You heard the guest of honor, come on! We're going to have an adventure!"
As Pinkie disappeared down the stairs, Spike looked out from Luna's mane where he had been hiding. "That was pretty cool! I can't believe she fell for it."
Trixie grinned and shot out her chest proudly, giving the dragon a haughty laugh. "Oh ye of little faith, like there could ever be any doubt. The Great and Powerful Trixie is not called Great and Powerful for nothing!"
Spike rolled his eyes while Luna snickered, pulling the silly hat off Trixie's head and giving her a small dash on the nose with it. "You know, I kinda missed the Great and Powerful Trixie."
Pinkie walked along with Gummy the alligator lounging on her back. Everypony they passed stopped and stared at the deranged pony and her pet, many of them taking a few steps away. Trixie gave Luna a skeptical glance. If they had hoped to avoid attention they just failed big time. "I'm having serious second thoughts about taking this pony with us."
Luna smiled. "I know, but we promised Celestia we'd take others with us, and she was Twilight's friend. Maybe we should just give her a chance, don't you think?"
Trixie nodded, not at all convinced. "So where to next?"
Spike pointed down the road. "We need to get Rarity, but she's locked herself up in her shop for weeks now, and I don't think she ever gets out at all."
Luna looked over her shoulder at the dragon. "She doesn't come out at all?"
"Nope. She only lets Fluttershy in. That poor pegasus comes by every day with food and such. Works herself to the bone to support Rarity now that Rarity isn't selling any clothes."
Trixie paused. "Fluttershy? I met her in the royal gardens. If she can talk to Rarity, then why don't we go to her first? If nothing else I think she would be a more useful addition to our party than—" She glanced at Pinkie who was walking up ahead. "You know what I mean."
Luna nodded. "Sounds like a good idea to me. Do you know where Fluttershy is, Spike?"
Spike scratched his chin thoughtfully. "She might be at her cottage, if she's not working."
"Alright, show the way then, Spike," Luna said and set off.
Fluttershy's cottage lay nestled among the fields and woods on the outskirts of Ponyville. The idyllic little home seemed warm and welcoming as the group trotted up the path towards it. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a red glow over the landscape. Here and there a chicken clucked, birds chirped and bunnies frolicked in the tall grass. A few windows in the cottage were open and a thin line of smoke rose from the chimney.
"Seems we're in luck," Trixie said as she glanced around.
Luna nodded and stopped at the front door. She raised a hoof and was about to knock when a voice called out behind them.
"Hello there, can I help you?" A pink unicorn with purple mane smiled at them from inside the chicken pen where she had been working. As they turned she gasped and quickly bowed. "Oh dear, I'm sorry Your Majesties. I had no idea it was you."
Luna smiled. "There is no need to apologize. We were hoping to find Fluttershy. Is she home?"
"Yes, Your Highness. She just returned not long ago. Poor thing works so hard." The unicorn dusted herself off and stepped out of the chicken pen. "Follow me." She opened the door and stepped inside. "Fluttershy, dearest?"
Luna and Trixie followed her inside and looked around while Pinkie ran off to chase a squirrel. The cottage looked neat and tidy and a small pot was bubbling merrily on the stove. In front of it stood a yellow pegasus with pink mane, holding a wooden spoon in her mouth and swaying slightly, her head drooped near the floor. She snored a little as the unicorn spoke, then blinked and dropped the spoon. "Oh … uh … oh my … Sparkler? Is that you?"
Sparkler, the unicorn, gasped and ran up to the sleepy pegasus. "Oh dear Fluttershy, come here." She led Fluttershy over to the couch and made her sit down. "Now don't you worry about dinner, I'll take care of that. You just relax and talk to our esteemed guests." She turned to Luna and Trixie, smiling nervously. "Please forgive Fluttershy. She works so hard now that our poor friend Rarity can't support herself."
Luna smiled. "Actually, that is partly why we came." She turned to Fluttershy who was now sitting on the couch, nodding to herself. "Uh … Fluttershy?"
Fluttershy jerked her head and blinked at them. "Uh …?" She rubbed her eyes and looked at them, then gasped and bowed, causing her to tumble down the couch. "Oh my … I'm so, so sorry!" After a few seconds of scrambling about, and some help from Sparkler, she pulled herself up off the floor. Trixie gave the pegasus a worried look.
Luna looked concerned as well. "I think we'll cut to the chase. We need your help to get Rarity out of her house so she can come with us on a small journey. We hope it would help her, and us."
Trixie nodded and added with a smile, "And we'd love to have you come with us as well, if you like. You could really use the vacation, I'd say." Their meeting earlier had been brief, but Trixie already felt that she liked the shy but hard working pegasus.
Sparkler clapped her hooves enthusiastically. "A great idea! And don't you worry about your cottage and all your animal friends, Fluttershy. If it means you and poor Rarity get some rest, then I'll gladly take care of them while you're away. That's what friends are for, after all!"
"Anything … for my friend Rarity. Where, um, where are we going? Can Angel come too?" Fluttershy yawned, swaying on the couch as she tried to stay awake.
Trixie gnawed her lip. After Pinkie Pie and her crazy alligator she could only imagine who or what Angel was. She nodded a bit. "Sure. We're traveling to Hoofswell, we hope there's somepony there who can help us find out what happened with Twilight. Pinkie Pie and her friend Gummy are also coming."
Fluttershy's head drooped again. "Oh … that sounds good."
Trixie looked at Luna and Sparkler. "Maybe we should let her sleep first, she can hardly sit up, much less walk."
Fluttershy swayed dangerously, then jerked up and shook her head. "No, no, I … I'm fine," she mumbled and stood up shakily. "A little fresh air and … and I'll be fresh as, uh, as a daisy."
They all watched with concern as the pegasus staggered out of the door, calling for Angel in between long yawns. Luna sighed. "I suppose she can sleep later. Thanks for your help, miss Sparkler."
Sparkler bowed. "Of course, Your Highness. I really hope this will do her and Rarity some good, it pains me to see old friends like that."
Fluttershy knocked on the door to Rarity's boutique. "Rarity? It's me …" She yawned, a long, quiet yawn. "Fluttershy." She knocked again. A curtain on the second floor was pulled apart just enough for a single azure eye to peek out for a second, scanning the area. Fluttershy looked up and waved.
Trixie watched Fluttershy from where they were hiding, out of sight of the windows, waiting for the signal. They had decided that the best thing to do was to not let Rarity see them, lest she decide not to let any of them in. There was a faint click from the door and Fluttershy winked as she opened the door. Trixie and Luna, with Spike on her back and Pinkie trotting along behind, hurried off and slipped in behind Fluttershy.
Trixie looked around at the closed fashion shop. She remembered the local fashion designer well, both from her first visit to Ponyville and her letters to Twilight during the time in Dappleshore. Everything bore the touch of a mind obsessed with cleanliness, despite the room looking abandoned.
Fluttershy pointed a hoof at the stairs and they ascended in silence. The yellow pegasus paused at the top and bit her lip nervously "I-I don't know if I can convince her. I've tried before, but s-she won't listen to me."
Luna smiled at her. "Just try your best, Fluttershy. We're here to help."
Fluttershy nodded and reached out for the door. She paused. "Um … watch where you step, and don't, uh, don't mind the cats." Trixie quirked an eyebrow and looked at Luna, who looked back with concern. Trixie walked in behind Fluttershy as the yellow pony opened the door and stepped in. "Rarity? Are you in here?"
Several eyes turned to stare at them in the gloom. Trixie stopped and looked at the wall of unblinking eyes. "Cats … no kidding," she uttered under her breath as she scanned the horde of felines dotting every inch of the room. Luna and Spike blinked nervously while Pinkie put on her most deranged smile … or rather left it on as she took in the room.
Rarity sat in front of a large mirror, dressed in a black dress and holding in her lap a white cat with a purple bow in its hair. She stroked the cat gently while staring blankly into the mirror. Her dress and grooming was as Trixie remembered it—perfect—but nothing could hide the ragged, crazed look of somepony who had obviously not slept in far too long, much less been outside in the fresh air and sun.
She looked up as they entered. When she saw them all her eyes widened and she jumped up, pointing an accusing hoof at Fluttershy. "Traitor! You have led these hounds into our midst! How could you?"
Luna and Trixie shared looks again. This day was by far one of the more interesting they had ever experienced.
Fluttershy shook her head vigorously. "No, no, please … I-I'm your friend. You remember Luna, and Spike, and … and Pinkie. We just want to help."
"No! You will not have us! Stay back, curs! Back I say!" Trixie almost expected foam to form around the cat lady's muzzle.
"Please … please stop yelling," Fluttershy cried.
Trixie frowned and stepped up next to Fluttershy. "Will you calm down and stop scaring your friend! We just—" Her voice broke and her eyes snapped to something in the large mirror behind Rarity. A little violet unicorn was staring out at her, large tears sparkling in her eyes. But there was something else there. Trixie couldn't see it but she knew something was there, a lurking shadow in the corner.
Rarity stared at Trixie with wild eyes, pointing a hoof shakily. "Y-you! We will drive you off, you dirty, dirty mongrels, yes we will! Back with you! Back!"
Trixie opened her mouth, but that was about all she got to do as all the eyes in the room turned to her. In a cacophony of cries and hisses all the cats launched themselves at her with tiny claws bared. Trixie stumbled and fell with a cry as the mass of fur and claws descended upon her, scratching mercilessly.
Trixie screamed and flailed wildly, but the cats were far too many. "Help! Somepony get these things off of me!" Luna and Spike fought to get through the mass of fur and claws, but little did it help.
"YOU. STOP. RIGHT NOW! ALL OF YOU!" Trixie blinked and batted away a few cats from her face. Total silence fell over the room as all cats and ponies alike stopped dead in their tracks and stared at the yellow pegasus whose eyes suddenly seemed to draw in all attention, as if the world had decided to revolve around those two orbs of unflinching cyan.
Fluttershy lifted herself off the floor and flew straight at Rarity who visibly shrank under the yellow mare's gaze. "How DARE you! Of all the ponies! I don't care how sad you are—" Rarity opened her mouth, but Fluttershy wasn't done yet. "No, not one word! You do NOT hurt your own friends! Do you hear me?! Now you go apologize to Trixie, and then you march right out of here. We're going on a trip, and you're coming with us! You GOT that?"
Rarity gulped. "W-what about my cats?"
Fluttershy didn't remove her eyes from Rarity. "I am sure Sparkler will find good homes for them all."
"Can I … can I at least take Opalescence with me?" Rarity looked beyond miserable as she sat there, small and cowering before Fluttershy.
"Yes, you can take Opal with you, but only her. Now, apologize to miss Trixie."
Trixie scowled as she stood up. She had scratches everywhere from all the tiny, sharp claws.
Rarity walked over to Trixie with lowered head, Opalescence on her back looking just as sad. "I'm terribly, terribly sorry!"
Trixie closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath. "Apology accepted. Don't let it happen again," she half whispered. "And keep your little monster away from me!"
Rarity trotted out of the room. Pinkie followed her out with a confused look while Luna hurried over to Trixie. "Are you alright, dear? How hurt are you?"
Trixie looked down at her bloodied coat and winced. "I'll need a bath before we go anywhere, but I'll survive. If I get any scars I swear I will turn that cat green!" She gave the mirror a nervous glance, but it was empty now. She stood for a second, then turned around.
Trixie stepped back out of the boutique, glad to feel the fresh air, and even more glad to be away from all the mirrors in there. The sun had set by now and while Trixie was washing her wounds Luna had brought out the moon to begin the night. Fluttershy, meanwhile, had taken all of Rarity's cats to her cottage where hopefully Sparkler would find a home for them. Trixie thought of poor Sparkler and decided that she wouldn't blame the unicorn if she simply dumped all the cats off in the Everfree Forest. Or a lake.
She sighed to herself and looked over the group as it gathered outside the shop. Her and Luna, Spike the dragon, the deranged party pony with her toothless alligator, the insane cat lady and her cat—thankfully just one cat—and finally Fluttershy with her scowling bunny. No doubt it too didn't much like cats, or alligators, however toothless. At least she had come to like Fluttershy, especially after that display in the boutique.
Trixie shook her head and leaned in close to Luna, whispering in her ear. "We're a traveling circus, I dare say a freak show! Fitting that we should be traveling to an insane asylum. Are you sure you're not secretly intending to dump us all off there? I wouldn't blame you."
Luna chuckled and winked at her.
"This is going to be a long trip …" Trixie sighed.