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Has That Always Been There? · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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The Destiny Trap
Trixie huddled in the alleyway as she telekinetically squeezed the water from both her cape and hat, the eaves overhead sheltering from the rain that poured down all around her. The Manhattan pegasi had messed up their weather schedule, and now she was the pony paying the price for their incompetence.

Shivering, she wondered if calling off her visit to Trotterfield’s Magical Emporium might be smart. She didn’t like the idea of shopping while shopping wet. On the other hoof, she was already most of the way there, so it’d be a waste of her time to just head back to her wagon now.

She sighed. That left the magic umbrella option, but that spell exhausted her. Still, tired beat wet, and no doubt Trotterfield wouldn’t mind if she recovered her energy before she had to head back out into the rain.

Hopefully the patch on her wagon’s roof held.

Conjuring the spectral hemisphere over her, she trotted back out onto the road and down the street, pushing her way through the crowd, finding it in heart to both hate and welcome her relative anonymity here. Nopony knew her, but nopony knew her reputation.

A few blocks down she paused, the fur on the back of her neck standing up. Something felt wrong, like She knew this area pretty well from her dozen’s of visits to Trotterfield’s. She got stuff to drink at the cafe on the corner, cloth for her costume at the fabric shop down the street, supplies for her fireworks two streets down, dinner at the curry place wedged in the alley…

That was it. Right next to the curry shop was a sign she couldn’t remember having seen before, a battered wooden rectangle with a blackened diamond and Tricks & Charms, Bringing Magic to Manehattan for Over 50 Years printed neatly below it.

Trixie hesitated, ignoring the jostling of ponies as they forced their way around her. Trotterfield’s was only another block or two away, but something about the shop called to her. Maybe it was just the novelty of having missed it every time she’d been down this way, or maybe it was just her great and powerful instincts guiding her.

Trotterfield’s could wait.

Up close, the shop looked about as unimpressive as expected, a ratty little hovel tucked away in a back alley where nopony could see it. Dirty windows, a dinged and dented door, the windows dirty and almost impossible to see through, and no actual indication as to whether the place was even open.

Shouldering the door open, Trixie was surprised to find that it opened easily. She caught herself with little trouble, avoiding an embarrassing spill into the dim and, at a glance, empty interior. Well, empty of ponies. Certainly not empty of water tanks and sword-pierced barrels and segmented boxes and all sorts of magical props crowded together in the mildew-scented room.

She frowned, leaning closer to a milk can positioned near the door. It looked like the one Hoofdini used in one of his most infamous escapes.

“It’s the real thing, dear.”

Trixie jumped at the soft voice, letting out a soft squeak of surprise as she whirled. Barely a hoof’s width from her face stood a short crystal pony, her black mane and coat glittering in the faint light of the room’s lamps. “What?”

“You have a good eye. That can was the one used by Hoofdini. Quite the collector’s item.” She smiled. “Welcome to Blackstone’s Tricks and Charms. My apologies for not greeting you. I was examining some new items in the back.”

Struggling to conceal her embarrassed blush with the brim of her hat, Trixie cleared her throat, “Greetings! I, the Great and Powerful Trixie, Equestria’s greatest illusionist, have decided to grace your humble establishment.”

The pony bowed. “It is my honor to welcome you, Great and Powerful Trixie.”

Trixie derailed for a moment, not quite sure how to deal with somepony actually responding the way she wanted. “Ah… oh. And um, you are?”

“The proprietess, Blackstone.” She bowed again, the smile never leaving her face. “How may I assist you?”

“Trixie just saw your shop from the street and was curious because she had never seen it before. She thought she knew all the trick shops in Manehattan.”

Blackstone looked her up and down. “Well, I do tend to deal with a more… discerning set of customers. It doesn’t serve to advertise. Walk-ins are rarely interested in what I have to sell.”

A lot of words to say that they sold really, really expensive stuff. If that milk can was the actual Hoofdini piece, Trixie dreaded to imagine how many bits it would cost. Certainly more than she’d ever see in her lifetime. “Trixie can see why.”

“Oh, not everything here is a collectable.” Blackstone trotted back towards the counter at the back of the room, her short tail bobbing with every step, as she continued, “But what I have here is not for dilettantes. I collect and sell only the greatest tricks, ones that would astound even an Alicorn. Ones that require true skill and dedication to the craft to master.” As she spoke, the rooms lamps seemed to brighten, their light catching crystal ornaments on the ceiling that sent rainbow shards of light dancing around the room. “So tell me, was it fate that led you to my humble shop?”

Trixie grinned at the display. Her instincts had been right. While it might have looked like a junk shop from the outside, Blackstone had the soul of a performer. “Well, obviously the Great and Powerful Trixie is no mere huckster off the street. However, she already possess grand illusions that would amaze Princess Celestia herself! She has mastered more than a hundred, nay, a thousand tricks!”

“I should have expected as much from one who calls herself the Great and Powerful.” Blackstone seated herself behind the counter, her eyes meeting Trixie’s. “But I promise, my tricks are unlike any you have ever seen.”

“Then show Trixie something you think would impress her,” Trixie demanded.

“With pleasure,” Blackstone said, the lights returning to their dull glow. Pulling a wooden box closer to her. “This trick was pioneered by my father. He called it the Destiny Trap, for you see, every pony’s fate is preordained.” From the box she produced a thin deck of cards, spreading them across the table, revealing their blank white faces. “We believe we begin our lives as blank slates,” she said, flipping the entire line of cards, revealing their kaleidoscopic backs, “We see our lives as infinite possibilities spread out before us. But I know that’s not true.” She pushed the deck towards Trixie. “Would you shuffle it, please?”

Snorting, Trixie lifted the cards and mixed them using her magic, giving the deck a final decisive cut before she presented it to Blackstone.

“You see, even in a random, disordered world, the truth is that I will still be me.” Pulling the top from the deck, she flipped it, revealing a black diamond. The mare smiled, turning body just enough to show off a matching cutie mark. “Try as I might to change it, I can never escape who I am.” As if for emphasis, she drew another card off the deck, revealing another black diamond, then a third.

“A nice performance, but Trixie is not impressed. The trick is obvious.”

“Is it?”

“Yes. All the cards look like that now.”

Blackstone peered at the deck as if seeing it for the first time. “Really?” She pulled another card from the top, revealing yet another black diamond. “That does seem to be the case. Perhaps you should try though, just to be sure?”

Trixie paused, watching the mare’s face, studying her perfectly innocent expression and knew she’d just taken the bait. Blackstone was a master of her art, and she had suckered Trixie in with ease. “Can Trixie take any card?”

“Of course.”

Trixie pulled a card from the center of the deck, her heart pounding as she flipped it, revealing an image of her own cutie mark.

Blackstone’s grin nearly reached from ear to ear. “See? Our destinies are inescapable.”

Starlight Glimmer sat near the crystal table, lounging on a cushion she’d brought in. “I’m glad you could make it to Ponyville, Trixie. With Twilight and everypony in Saddle Arabia, it’s been pretty lonely around here.”

“Trixie is not sure why you consider their absence a bad thing,” Trixie said between bites of her daffodil sandwich.

“One of the problems with having friends, I suppose: you miss them when they’re gone.”

Trixie took another bite of her sandwich, but didn’t offer a retort.

“So how’s your tour going?” Starlight asked, levitating another sandwich towards herself. “You went up through Fillydelphia and Manehattan, right?”

“Trixie did. It was a long and arduous journey all on her lonesome, but Trixie has persevered, bringing with her word of her incomparable humility and grace to all ponies along her path.”

Starlight giggled. “You know, I don’t think you told me: did you ever work out a better title than ‘The Humble and Penitent Trixie’s Equestrian Apology Tour’?”

“Trixie did not.”

“You really should workshop that a little more.”

“Trixie does not disagree.” She grinned. “Trixie still has a few stops she has to make. You could join her and help her come up with a better name. ”

“I wish I could, but I really can’t just up and leave. I have a lot of friendship stuff to study and magic to practice and a castle to sit and…” Starlight sighed, rolling onto her side and staring up at the table that held the cutie map.

Trixie snorted. “Trixie thinks saving Equestria entitles you to a break. Besides, wouldn’t coming with Trixie count as studying ‘friendship stuff’?”

“I wish.”

“You should quit being Twilight’s friendship student and become Trixie’s great and powerful assistant full-time.”

“Probably,” Starlight said, meaning it without really meaning it. The idea had appeal, but she couldn’t well just pack up and leave on a whim. She suspected that, while Twilight might be okay with that now, there were many ponies who might not appreciate her running wild.

Maybe a bit of a vacation was in order, though.

She sat back up. “Maybe if you waited until after Twilight got back I could go?”

“How long until then?”

Starlight shrugged, offering a sheepish, if hopeful, smile. “Not sure. Maybe another week or two?”

Trixie offered a flat look back.

“It was worth a try, right?”

“Well, she could probably stay a few days, at the very least,” Trixie said, sniffing as she no doubt tried to keep the smile off her face. “If you would like her to, of course.”

Starlight pushed herself to her hooves and nodded. “I would very much like it, Trixie.”

“Oh! Trixie has a brand new trick to show you! She believes this may be one of her best yet.”

Starlight’s ears pricked. “Even better than the Moonshot Manticore Mouth Dive?”

“Perhaps not quite as dramatic, but Trixie believes it is a magnificent and stupendous trick, worthy of being part of her act. Observe!” Trixie pulled a small wooden box from under her hat and placed it on the Cutie Map table, opening it and spreading it to reveal several blank cards before she pressed the deck back together. “The Great and Powerful Trixie knows much about the world. For example, that all ponies are inexorably pulled to their destinies! No matter how the world may change, a pony’s destiny is inescapable. Will you shuffle the cards, volunteer?”

Starlight barely kept it to a chuckle as she lifted the deck and mixed the cards, a shiver running through her horn and down her spine as her magic touched them. “They tingle.”

“That is the power of destiny flowing through them! For, as you see, despite the infinite futures laid out before Trixie and shaped by your hoof,” Trixie pulled the top card from the deck and, to Starlight’s surprise, revealed a card bearing her own cutie mark, “She remains the Great and Powerful Trixie!”


“Trixie believes you are not suitably impressed, volunteer! Let her amaze you with her understanding of the very fabric of her reality! See, when Trixie says that destiny is inescapable, she means for everypony. Though not all destinies are not as manifestly incredible as hers, that does not change their reality!” With a swift hoof movement, she spread the cards on the table. “Take a card for yourself and see!”

Hovering a hoof over the cards, Starlight watched Trixie’s face, wondering if she could spot anything, but Trixie had long ago mastered stage presence, leaving Starlight to just flip a random card with her hoof. It was blank. “I think you messed up, Trixie.”

Trixie frowned, flipping another card and revealing her cutie mark on the face once more. “Trixie is… not sure what she did wrong. Try another?”

Starlight did as asked, flipping another card with her hoof, revealing another blank face. Glancing up at Trixie, she saw that unicorn staring at the facedown cards, apparently trying to work out where her trick had gone wrong. “What was supposed to happen?” Starlight asked, idly flipping a few more cards over to reveal blank faces.

“The card you chose should have had your cutie mark on it,” Trixie grumbled, pulling the faceup cards towards her. “Destiny and all.”

It made sense. And it certainly fit the whole speech she’d given quite well. She had not seen Trixie try new tricks much, but she suspected this was part of the process. Better to blow it with a friend than in front of an audience. “Want to try again?”

“If you don’t mind,” Trixie grumbled, mashing the cards together. “Blah, blah, blah, destiny. Shuffle them.”

Starlight lifted the deck to shuffle it.

Nothing happened.

She tilted her head and tried again.

Nothing happened.

Her heart thudded in her chest as she tried telekinesis again. And again. And again.

“Were you going to shuffle?” Trixie asked, raising an eyebrow.

Starlight couldn’t feel her magic. Not even the faintest hint of power flowed through her horn as she cast spell after spell after spell. “I can’t use magic.”


“I can’t use magic!” Starlight’s voice cracked, her legs shaking as she pulled from deeper and deeper inside herself, searching for any trace of magic in her body and finding nothing. This wasn’t like the Changeling Kingdom where she couldn’t use her magic, this was like she didn’t have any at all. “I… I can’t…”

Trixie started to say something but her breath caught. “Starlight, your cutie mark is…”

“What?” Starlight jerked her head around to try and get a good angle, but couldn’t see it. Twisting to position herself where she could see her reflection in Twilight’s throne, her heart skipped a beat, leaving her feeling faint.

It was gone.

Her cutie mark was gone.

Trixie looked over at Starlight as the train continued down the line, watching her stare out the window. She bit her lip, trying to think of anything to say. Her friend had calmed down enough to stop hyperventilating, at least. She still looked like she might snap at any second though. “You doing okay?”

Starlight shook her head, squashing herself back into her seat, pulling Trixie’s cloak tighter around her.

“Trixie will ring the shopkeeper’s neck once she fixes this,” she promised, setting a hoof on Starlight’s shoulder. “You will have your cutie mark back in no time.”

There was no response.

It was the only thing that made sense: Starlight touched the cards and suddenly her magic and her cutie mark were gone. Except, try as Trixie might, she couldn’t figure anything out about them besides the imprint gimmick that Blackstone had shown her. She’d poked and prodded them with her magic, and nothing happened besides the trick working the way it was supposed to.

It figured that whenever Trixie actually wanted Twilight around she was nowhere to be found. Her face burned at the thought, but the only time she’d ever performed magic on this scale was when she had the Alicorn Amulet. Without it…

Trixie shook her head and forced a smile. “I will fix this, Starlight. I promise. After all, is Trixie not the greatest and most powerful unicorn in all of Equestria?”

Starlight’s lips quirked just a little, almost approaching a smile.

“So what do you think? Should Trixie makes this trick a part of her act.”

“You should probably wait until you figure out to put the cutie mark back,” Starlight said, finally breaking the silence.

“Trixie will admit that is probably a good idea.”

Leaning against the train’s wall, Starlight stared out the window. “I wonder if this is how it felt when I stole other ponies’ cutie marks.”

Trixie started, looking at her. “What?”

“I mean, everypony seemed so happy at first, but…” she trailed off. “I just feel empty. Like I’m—”

“Trixie doesn’t think this is a particularly constructive line of conversation.”

“Probably not,” Starlight said with a nod, “But I can’t stop thinking about it. I thought I was finally getting past all this and then—”

“Then nothing,” Trixie said, setting a hoof on her friend’s back. “The past is past.”

Pressing her head against the window, Starlight sagged. “You’re right.”

Starlight wanted to throw up as she stared at the empty storefront, the dirty windows not managing to conceal the empty darkness that loomed behind it. Her legs shook as she sat down on the damp sidewalk.

“But… It… I… There was…” Trixie stammered.

Hugging her friend’s cloak closer around her, Starlight struggled to find her voice. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

“Yes!” Trixie yelled. “It was right here! Right here! Not more than a week ago! I’m sure!”

“No one in the curry shop remembers it.”

“They are wrong! I’m not lying, Starlight.” Trixie looked like she was about to cry. “It was right here, a whole shop filled with magic stuff. Classic tricks, collector’s items, all that!”

“Well it isn’t now.” Starlight regretted saying it, unable to keep the anger in her voice.

Trixie looked like she’d gotten kicked in the face, but she recovered quickly, her horn glowing as she pointed it at the locked door. The door snapped open, wood tearing free as a sudden force tore the latch off. “Trixie will see about that,” she growled, stomping in.

Forcing herself to her hooves, Starlight followed her. The interior of the shop certainly didn’t seem like a place that’d been recently occupied, the air thick with the smell of dust and mildew. Still, despite the smell, the place seemed oddly clean.

“Blackstone, where are you?” Trixie shouted, circling the room and jamming her head through side doors.

Starlight walked slowly, her eyes scanning every surface they could, looking for anything. She tried to cast an illumination spell, her stomach sinking at the emptiness that responded. Magic was part of who she was.

Without it, what was she?

A piece of paper near one of the walls caught her eye. Her breath caught in her chest as she read the note, starting to feel faint as her eyes scanned the near.

If you are reading this, then odds are that the Destiny Trap has functioned as intended. I would say that I am sorry for the trickery involved, but the honest truth is I am not. As the Crystal Empire learned a thousand years ago, a hoof extended in kindness can be the undoing of an entire kingdom.

A pony cannot change who they are.

“Trixie?” she whispered, her voice catching as she looked at it.

“Did you find something?”

The paper slipped out of her hoof as she tried to take an unsteady step back, but failed, her legs giving way as she dropped to her haunches.

Trixie was at her side in an instant, keeping her from tipping further over. “What’s wrong?” At Starlight’s weak gesture she lifted it and started to read, her face twisting into a grimace. “Is this a joke?”

“Obviously not,” Starlight managed.

Trixie crushed the paper with her magic, shaking. “She tricked me. That conniving crystal pony tricked me!”

“She used you,” Starlight agreed, hugging the cloak around her as her mind raced. This wasn’t a weird magical accident. Somepony had deliberately stolen her magic and her cutie mark. Because of who she had been. She squeezed her eyes shut, struggling to hold back tears.


“Shut up, Trixie!” she shouted, shaking off the hoof that Trixie tried to lay on her. “Just shut up.” Standing unsteadily, she started for the door, the sound sound of Trixie’s hooves following her. She needed to think. To figure something out. But every time she tried to think about the sort of magic that might do this to her, she felt hollow and distant.

And here she thought she had finally been making amends for her past.

“Slow down!” Trixie called, making Starlight notice she had slipped into a canter. Part of her just wanted to run, to gallop and distance herself from the pony responsible for her current predicament, but the tiny rational part of her that still held some sway convinced her to slow. She didn’t look back.

Trixie’s steps stopped behind her, but it was a moment before she finally spoke. “You have a friend in the Crystal Empire, right? The smart pony who knows stuff?””

“Why does it matter?”

“Blackstone was a crystal pony. Maybe he knows something or somepony who can help.”

Glancing back, Starlight caught the concern on Trixie’s face, tempering her anger ever-so-slightly. “Sunburst.”

“Then let’s catch a train to the Crystal Empire! Trixie will find this Blackstone and use her formidable magic to undo what she has done.”

Starlight didn’t respond immediately, considering what she might want to do to this Blackstone if she got her magic back. Perhaps see how the pony liked having her cutie mark ripped off. “Maybe we should wait for Twilight to get back. She might know a way to fix it.”

“Maybe,” Trixie said, “But Trixie doesn’t plan to wait for Princess Twilight Sparkle. She is going to find the pony that did this to her friend and fix it.”

“Trixie,” she started, but stopped when she saw the tears in Trixie’s eyes. Her friend was almost as upset as she was. Even if she still had her magic and her cutie mark, she had been tricked into hurting somepony that mattered to her. Taking a deep breath, she nodded. “I’m not going to let you go alone.”

Starlight shifted uncomfortably as Sunburst walked around her, particularly when he focused on her blank haunch. Trixie’s cloak, hanging from a chair, looked so inviting to bury herself in again.

“I have never seen anything like this,” he mumbled, returning to his table to look at the cards. “None of your magic works?”

“It isn’t that it doesn’t work. It’s not there. There’s nothing there. I’m… empty.”

He used a light touch when moved the cards, as if he was afraid that it might be his cutie mark and magic that might be next. For all he knew, it might be. “Well, I can tell you one thing: these cards weren’t made using unicorn magic. What did you say the name of the pony who sold them to you was?”

“Blackstone!” Trixie snapped from her seat.

“Hm,” he mused, trotting to his bookshelf and scanning it. “I could swear I have heard that name before. Blackstone, Blackstone, Blackstone…” He continued muttering the name like a mantra as he looked.

The words from the note that had been left behind rose in Starlight’s mind. A pony cursing the choice of the Crystal Empire to take in Sombra because of what he did. “What about groups of ponies who opposed Sombra when he tried to take over the Crystal Empire.”

“Hm?” He started to look towards her, then his head snapped back the shelf. “That’s it! The Blackstone Ponies.” He levitated a thick tome off the shelf, nearly throwing it onto the table in his haste to open it. “They were a group of ponies who attempted to overthrow Sombra following his ascension. They were artificers, ponies who used crystals to craft relics infused with the power of the Crystal Empire. Unfortunately, they failed. Sombra knew almost as much about crystal magic as they did.”

“Does that actually help?” Trixie asked.

“Well, it would certainly be a bit of a coincidence for her to use that name without an awareness of the group, giving what she did. And even among crystal ponies, artificers are rare. The books state that the Blackstone ponies were wiped out by Sombra, though.”

“No reason for him to lie about that,” Starlight mumbled.

Trixie walked to his desk, looking at the book with him. “Did they have a stronghold? A secret base? An underground fortress?”

Starlight looked at her. “Why?”

The grin Trixie offered was not a nice one. “Because Blackstone – or whoever she is – is like Trixie. This is one big performance, and she thinks she’s the star. The name, the way she attached the trap to a thematic trick, the way she used me, even the note she left… She’s putting on a show. She’d use a place that belonged to them.”

“That’s a lot of conjecture for—”

“Just answer the question!” Trixie demanded, pressing her snout against Sunburst’s.

“Trixie,” Starlight said softly, seeing Sunburst seemed ready to run.

She stepped back, but only just.

Sunburst coughed and looked to Starlight.

She nodded. “It’s the closest thing we have to a lead right now, and I trust Trixie.”

He looked down at the book, flipping pages back and forth for a few moments. “There was the location of their final stand against Sombra? It was a little outpost outside the city itself.” he set the book down, casting his gaze around the room. “Uh, just a minute. I have a map around here somewhere.”

Starlight nodded, almost trying to levitate the book towards herself, but stopping just short of making an actual effort.

A pink haze surrounded the book and lifted it to her.

“You wanted it?” Trixie asked.

“I didn’t need your help,” Starlight muttered, her hoof pressing the book to the desk.

Trixie’s magic evaporated from around it as the unicorn looked away, finding something else in the room to take interest in.

Burying her eyes in the book, she tried to avoid looking at Trixie, regretting what she’d said.

“Here we go!” Sunburst declared, spreading the map in the open air, a quill circling a spot northeast of the city. “It’s a small cave system that they hid out in until Sombra found them. I don’t even know if it still exists, but it’s the only thing I’ve found any sort of reference to.”

“Then let’s go!” Trixie said.

Trixie’s teeth chattered as the wind whipped around them. Apparently the Crystal Empire’s magic didn’t extend that far. Even if she didn’t want to admit it out loud, she was quite glad Sunburst had made them stop and pick up some warm clothes.

“Is that it?” Starlight asked, pointing at a rock wall in the distance.

Trixie squinted through the drifting snowflakes. “Maybe?”

The two of them picked up their pace as much as they could, plowing through the thick snow that coated the ground. Possibly leaving tomorrow would have been a better idea, but Trixie couldn’t stand to wait even one more minute. Blackstone was going to pay for what she did.

“It’s there,” Starlight said. “Tucked behind that big outcropping right there.”

“Trixie sees it now,” she said.

The inside of the cave felt much warm, though Trixie suspected part of that was just being out of the wind. There wasn’t much to be said about it. It was a cave. It was a made of rock. It looked like it went a ways in, though.

Starlight shook herself, the snow from her heavy clothes making a tiny blizzard around her. “It’s dark.”

Trixie nodded, her own horn lighting up, the added brightness letting her see Starlight’s expression tighten for a fraction of a second before her friend looked away. Right now Trixie wished she knew what to do or what to say to make everything better. The problem was she knew that no words would do. She couldn’t even imagine what losing both her magic and her cutie mark would do to her.

It turned out her horn wasn’t necessary for long as, deeper in the cave there were crystals embedded in the stone wall that cast a faint white glow. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to see by.

The two of them walked in silence, the only sound the echoing of their hoofsteps. Trixie cast an occasional glance sideways, but Starlight seemed to be lost in thought, he eyes focused somewhere ahead of them.

Eventually they reached a split in the path, two branches leading in opposite directions.

“Which way?” Starlight asked.

“Trixie… does not know. Sunburst didn’t mention this, did he?”

“No, he didn’t.” Starlight sat back. “I guess we pick a direction and go?”

Trixie stared at the two paths, her ears twitching. The entire reason they were here was she guessed that Blackstone was as much a showpony as her, a trickster. In the face of overwhelming power, you could defeat it by being clever. Misdirection was the key to a magician’s art. Even when she’d had the power of the Alicorn Amulet, she’d been beaten by trickery. “No.”

Starlight frowned. “Then what do we do?”

“We find a third path. They were hiding here from Sombra, right? They wouldn’t use an obvious path.”

Starlight’s ears pricked. “You’re right.”

Staring at the rockwork ahead of her, Trixie tried to think of how she’d conceal a third passage. Would she even do it at the crossroad? Yeah, because then it’d be easy to find. She reached out a hoof and touched the massive crystal formation that jutted out of the wall.

The thing shuddered and shook, then split, revealing another, narrow path that looked ponymade, the amount of glowing crystals embedded into the wall providing it an almost inviting look.

Starlight started forward, but Trixie stepped up first. “Please let Trixie go first.”


The path sloped downwards, leading them into an expansive cavern, lit like the daylight and as warm as spring, strange crystalline structures jutting out of the grand and all sorts of things Trixie didn’t recognize covering workbenches. Though some of it she did. Like the items she’d seen in the magic shop.

“Oh my. I did not expect visitors in my shop today.”

Starlight’s spine stiffened at the sound of the voice, as well as the approaching hoofsteps that followed. From the far edge of the room approached a dark mare, her coat glittering in the light of the cavern, a look of calm amusement on her face.

“Is that her?” Starlight asked.

“It is,” Trixie snarled, crouching low.

The mare stopped a distance from them and bowed ever so slightly. “Trixie, a pleasure to see you again. And Starlight Glimmer. Also a pleasure. It appears I underestimated you. I really would not have expected you to find me here.”

“Give Starlight back her cutie mark and her magic!” Trixie growled.

Blackstone ignored her, looking to Starlight. “Do you mind if I ask how you did it?”

“Don’t ignore Trixie!” Trixie shouted, magic gathering around her horn and then dissipating as quickly as it had gathered.

“Would you please calm down?” Blackstone asked, finally sparing a look her way. “There’s no sense in getting worked up. Unicorn magic won’t work here. The crystals see to that. I may have underestimated you, but I’m not stupid.”

Starlight spoke up before Trixie could make a move, “Trixie, please stop. We don’t know what else she can do.”

The nod Trixie gave was almost imperceptible, but it was there.

Blackstone nodded. “Smart. Though it does raise a question: what exactly are the two of you hoping to achieve by coming here?”

“I want what you took back,” Starlight said. “That’s all. I know I did terrible things, but that’s not who I am anymore. I’ve changed.”

“Have you?” Blackstone asked, tilting her head curiously.

“I have.”

“Can you prove that?”

The question took Starlight by surprise. “What? Well… I’ve been studying under Princess Twilight. I’ve learned about making friends. I’ve made amends for what I did in the village.”


“And what?” Starlight snapped.

Blackstone shook her head. “Ponies don’t change. I won’t deny you’ve done better things, but that doesn’t mean you’ve changed. Inside you are still the same pony who stole the cutie marks of dozens of innocent ponies and ruled over them with an iron hoof. Who tried to take revenge on Twilight Sparkle by going back in time. Who resorts to dangerous magic she doesn’t understand or comprehend when faced with the slightest challenge. Those sorts of things don’t go away.”

The barbs sunk deep. Starlight took a step back. “I…”

“You can pretend you’ve put it behind you, that you’re a better pony now, that you won’t make the same mistakes, but can you honestly tell me that you don’t still think about abusing your magic?”

“I…” she started, but the rest of the words stuck in her throat. Starlight longed for the power to do something about the mare in front of her, but that’s what scared her. In a way, it proved her right.

“Our destinies are inescapable, plain as the marks on our flanks.” Blackstone bowed her head slightly. “Most of ours. Honestly, if you have changed, you should thank me. I’ve made it so you really can’t hurt anypony again.”

“Trixie has had it with you running your mouth like you know anything about Starlight!” Trixie snapped, stepping up beside her friend. “Ponies are defined by the decisions they make. As sure as Trixie has changed, Starlight has changed too. We are better ponies than we were.”

Blackstone quirked her head again and offered a soft smile to Trixie. “Interesting you should say that. Let me ask you, Trixie: are the rumors that part of the reason you befriended Starlight was to one-up Twilight true?”

Trixie’s eyes widened as she tried to stammer out a response about how Starlight was her friend and it had nothing to do with Twilight, but the damage was already done.

“Honestly, Trixie? Were you a more powerful unicorn, I would have taken your talent as well. Your sort of arrogance with any real power… well, I suppose we saw that when you had the Alicorn Amulet.” Blackstone shrugged. “Not that it matters. Even if you were able to convince me, I can’t give you your magic back. It’s gone. Shattered and dissipated the moment you touched the cards.”

Starlight’s legs gave out, forcing her to sit.

Trixie shook her head. “That’s a lie!”

“Have your princesses throw me in Tartarus or banish me to the moon for a thousand years. It won’t change what can’t be undone. Your magic and your cutie mark are gone, Starlight Glimmer. I can’t say I’m sorry.”

The declaration echoed in the cavern, punctuating the confident finality of it.

“Then take Trixie’s too,” Trixie demanded.

Starlight’s head jerked towards her friend, her mouth agape, her own, “What?” almost perfectly mirrored Blackstone’s.

Trixie took an unsteady step forward as she produced the box of cards and threw them towards Blackstone, scattering its contents across the stone floor. “Trap Trixie’s destiny too.”

Forcing herself to her hooves, Starlight shook her head. “What are you even talking about Trixie? Look, we can… we can go back to Twilight and ask for her help. Maybe she can do something.”

“Then she can fix Trixie at the same time.”

“That is beyond stupid!” Starlight shouted. “You are throwing everything away for no good reason!”

“Trixie doesn’t want you to face this alone,” Trixie responded, her voice soft as her hoof touched Starlight’s.

Blackstone shook her head as she collected the cards and watched the two of them. “A touching and suitably dramatic offer to convince me that friendship and love has changed the both of you, but it won’t work. I already told you, I can’t give back what was taken.” She pushed the deck forward. “If you want to give up your talent though, a touch from your magic will trigger them now. But that is all you’ll be doing.”

That was a good plan, but one that the crystal pony had seen straight through. To her horror, though, Trixie ignored the statement, her magic surrounding the cards before Starlight could move.

Even Blackstone looked taken aback.

Trixie let the cards drop back to the floor, their blank faces scattering. “Fine.”

Starlight stared at her friend’s now barren flank, unable and unwilling to believe what had just happened. “Trixie, you…”

She shook her head. “Let’s go back to Ponyville. Maybe Twilight can help. And if she can’t, well….” Trixie offered a weak smile. “At least we’re in it together now?”

“I guess we are,” Starlight said, her hoof touching Trixie’s, unsure of what else she could say.

The two turned and started walking back across the cavern.

“Wait,” Blackstone said, her quiet voice echoing in the cavernous silence. “Fine. You win.”

Trixie’s legs shook as the two of them approached the cavern mouth and the freezing cold that awaited them. Her heart hadn’t stopped pounding since they’d left Blackstone’s hidden cavern, waiting for the moment where their cutie marks and magic would somehow be taken back again.

Starlight beamed, her horn lighting the way with its familiar teal glow. “Don’t worry, the trip back will be a lot easier. I know a spell that’ll keep us warm the whole way.”

Trixie returned the smile. “Trixie is glad for that much.”

“I can’t believe you did that, Trixie. I really can’t. How did you know she was bluffing?”

Her hoof brushed lightly against Starlight’s as she shook her head. “I didn’t.”
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#1 · 2
· · >>AndrewRogue
Genre: Adventure

Thoughts: (My phone derped and I lost my review, so this might be kinda raw.)

This needs a minor spelling pass. It could also maybe lose the opening scene, as everything that comes after does a perfectly fine job of getting the same info across. That goes double with the ending, which doesn't really need the opening character to be established at all and is (IMO) a huge letdown, because it just, like... ends. It's as if a certain somepony just says, "Eh, never mind" to the whole story, and we roll credits.

With all that said, I thought the central hook and the adventure itself were pretty strong. I genuinely cared about what was happening and I wanted to know why the antagonist was doing what they did. I loved how Trixie's showmareship was a key asset in figuring things out. I really thought it was building to an emotional confrontation... which it did, and then it raised the stakes again... and then came the "Eh, never mind."

Author, you're sitting on a mountain of potential here. The words you spend developing the antagonist's facade toward the beginning would be better spent giving us more about her rationale, and goals, and actual background, towards the end.

Because there's something almost Bondian about her as a villain/mastermind, and I mean that in a good way.

Tier: Almost There
#2 · 3
· · >>Morning Sun >>AndrewRogue

I said that "Deuteragonists" would be hard to top, but this one does. This one is simpler in every way--straightforward story, straightforward characters, all that--but it does what it sets out to de really, really well. I would've liked a bit more development for Blackstone--give her some connection to some pony from Starlight's village, or have her give a personal account of why dealing with Sombra has turned her into this "avenging angel." Just a couple line to flesh her out, and I'll be happier.

#3 · 3
· · >>AndrewRogue
At the beginning of Trixie and Starlight's conversation, I really wanted to see Trixie drop into first person to illustrate their friendship vs. when the cards come out and she's using her stage presence to astound and amaze.

This was a good story, but it was over too fast. The bond that led Trixie to do what she did at the end wasn't shown enough, and neither was Starlight's newfound despair. The same can be said for the climax, when it looks like all is lost the characters need to react more.

Developing Blackstone a bit would be nice, too. How did she know when she knew? Has she done this before? What about Trixie's sacrifice made her relent?
#4 · 1
· · >>Not_A_Hat >>AndrewRogue
I really liked the basic hook in here. The somewhat cliche "The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday" trope made me roll my eyes a little, but the plot was gripping enough; it was refreshing to read a classic adventure story. Starlight and Trixie's desperation in scene four was well-described. And the ending was good, even though it felt rushed for the deadline -- I was afraid they'd talk the antagonist down with some banal inspirational platitudes, but instead we get a genuine dramatic sacrifice.

I don't think that Blackstone's "showmareship", on which Trixie bases her whole deduction, is shown to the reader clearly enough. Trixie's theory almost comes across as an off-the-wall "bat deduction", to use TVTropes parlance.

Blackstone's motivation doesn't seem clear. Just why does she want specifically to do this to Starlight? What does this all have to do with the Crystal Empire or the resistance movement?

The characters' perspective is a little confusing, too, as you sometimes switch between Trixie and Starlight's points of view in the same scene.
#5 · 4
· · >>AndrewRogue
>>JudgeDeadd On the 'showmareship' bit - I actually thought this was one of the cleverer bits of the story, because it seems like Trixie is lampshading the tropes used here, specifically the little shop that wasn't there yesterday and how they often have inconvenient gadgets. It kinda casts the opening of the story in a new light, and shifts the tone from being a somewhat 'silly' story to being a more serious one, and I liked that a lot. While the deduction is somewhat tenuous, it resonated strongly enough for me that I didn't mind it, and I thought the subversion was cleverly done. The mysterious shop owner is actually out to get someone, for legitimate reasons, and is possibly a secret agent of an insurgency? That's pretty cool, and it was all brought together in a handful of sentences.

That being said, I really do agree that Blackstone's motivations are the weakest link in this story. Your other two characters, Trixie and Starlight, are portrayed elegantly and crisply, and are a joy to read. But Blackstone is... well, let me put it this way. The ending baffled me entirely.

Blackstone has shown that she is both willing and able to maim a pony for life, because she did it to Starlight. She's in a position of power in the cave, and she's claimed she doesn't have any problem with maiming Trixie, she merely couldn't be bothered. I found all of that believable, because she wasn't coy and it fit my interpretation of her character. So when she turned around and gave them both their magic back, I was like... 'Bwuh?' It literally made no sense to me.

Why would she do it? If she felt maiming Trixie was 'going too far', then she should have given just Trixie's magic back. If it was really a test for Starlight, then why would what Trixie did matter? (But it can't be a test because she didn't expect them, right?) If Trixie convinced her that 'ponies can't change' is wrong, then why wasn't she convinced by anything Starlight has done in the past, such as confronting Chrysalis in her hive - where she was also without magic, and arguably in greater danger? Not only was there no indication to me that she was bluffing, I wouldn't even call this a bluff, because she has no stake! She can simply let them walk out of the cave and into the blizzard and she's lost nothing - or rather, if what she said about maiming Trixie is true, she's even gained something at very little effort.

So whatever her motivations are, I apparently failed to grasp them at all. As such, I really enjoyed most of this story, but feel like it flopped on its face at the very end, which was a bit disappointing.
#6 · 2
· · >>Posh >>AndrewRogue
I don't agree with any of the criticism of this story. The story is perfect as it is: please don't change a thing.

The only flaws in this work are the grammatical errors. From the early part of the story, it's obvious you fell victim to the time limit, because there are half-completed sentences and other obvious errors. There are also a lot of Engrishy errors, so you might want somepony else to proof it before you publish it on Fimfiction.

Seriously, I don't understand what everypony else is complaining about. It's like you guys read a totally different story. The story isn't about Blackstone, so she doesn't need more character development, nor should she have more. The motivations of all the characters are very clear and rational. The decisions made by each character are rational. There's nothing wrong here, period.

At present, this is easily the best story I've read in the competition.
#7 · 3
· · >>Morning Sun >>AndrewRogue
I gotta admit, I wasn't loving this story's chances at the outset. A lot of little errors that took me out of it (the Manhattan weather ponies? Seriously? Easy mistake to make, I know, but... seriously?).

It wasn't until Starlight came into the story that I really started to get into it. By the time the conflict was introduced, I was sold. This is another well-paced, slow-burning adventure/mystery that I'd liken to The Melancholy of Twaluhi Sparklemiya in terms of how compelling and just flat-out WELL WRITTEN it is. It's another piece with strong character work and solid interplay between two main characters.

It's hard to tell who is supposed to be the focus here, however. Who is this story about? Trixie's actions drive the story along, because she's the only one with any agency between the two of them, but Starlight's the focus of the story's conflict. And, arguably, it could be either Starlight or Trixie, since we spend an equal amount of time in both characters' heads, and the perspective switches don't help matters a great deal either. But I'm not actually going to hold that against the story, because it delves into and explores facets of both characters, developing both Trixie and Starlight in equal measure.

In short, the answer to the question of "who is this story about?" could be "both, yet neither." It's not a story about either Trixie or Starlight specifically; it's a story about the friendship that develops between them, and the lengths to which they'd go for one another. And I love the way you wrote their friendship; you hit me in the Feels while avoiding sap-laden territory.

This story does have a weakness, though, and that's the character of Blackstone. I must disagree with my esteemed colleague, the honorable Rep. >>Trick_Question. I don't mind a villain whose goals and motivations are ambiguous, as long as there's some indication as to what they might be. An implication, if not an outright statement, of who this person is and what they want. But Blackstone is completely impenetrable, and very little about her makes sense. Certainly, not enough to draw any conclusions about her.

Who is she? Well, she apparently fought Sombra a long long time ago. What does she want? To take Starlight's powers because Starlight was a bitch. Why does she want to do this? Why does she target Starlight? Does she target Starlight, specifically, or was she hoping to teach a lesson to any old asshole who stumbled upon her shop? How does she know who Starlight Glimmer and Trixie are, and why does she dislike them both to the extent that she does? Why does she change her mind about giving back Trixie's and Starlight's powers? Why does she do the whole song-and-dance about not being able to return them when Trixie delivers her ultimatum, only to renege at the last second and give us our happy ending? What does she stand to gain by doing so? What does she stand to lose by not? Why doesn't Trixie find something unusual about a five-decade-old magic shop being run by a crystal pony when the crystal ponies only returned within recent memory?

In short, to loosely quote our lord and savior, Harry S. Plinkett: "I'd be alright with the concept of a mystery villain if the basics were at least clear."

Other than that, the ending feels pat, and I think it's silly that Sunburst knew everything about the Blackstone rebels off the top of his head, but couldn't recall their name until Starlight jogged his memory.

But those are ultimately minor concerns, and a story this good is capable of easily transcending them. 8/10.
#8 · 1
· · >>AndrewRogue
I happen to have a soft spot for the good ol' Magic Shop of Horrors trope, and this story does a decent job with it.

Those early scenes really pulled me in. the mysterious shop, Trixie's characterization, the trick itself, they all felt really vivid, and made me want to keep going.

Unlike some of the other commenters, I don't have a problem with Blackstone nor her backstory early on. Mysterious ancient pony comes back, now tries to regain magic for nefarious purposes. I am fine with that premise, and the reason why is because at its core this story is really about Trixie and Starlight's relationship, them dealing with their past, and their prospects for the future.

Blackstone really is only there to set the events in motion, and I'm fine with her having a vague background as long as Trixie and Starlight's journey is entertaining enough to carry the rest of the story.

And it is!

For the first half of the story. Once they get to the Crystal Empire and set out to look for Blackstone, I feel the story starts to lose some steam. It really felt as though you wanted to wrap up the story and didn't get the time to flesh them out as much as the earlier scenes. The climax, especially, really comes and goes in a breeze. You gave us a very solid base, where we get into Trixie and Starlight's mind and get a a good taste of their thought processes. And yet, once we get to the final confrontation with Blackstone, things start to happen a bit too quickly.

Trixie is sacrificing her own destiny for Starlight's sake, and the story doesn't let us soak in this decision and its implications for her friendship with Starlight before Blackstone has a change of heart and everything gets tied nicely with a cute bow. Nevermind that we never get to actually see Blackstone's change of heart, or if she's just going to wait for another sucker out of whom she can suck a destiny. No, time to cut the story.

I mean, I can see, how that can be a result of time constraints, I've been in that situation before so, while I won't fault you for it, it still works against the overall quality of the story.

Author, if you take the time to extend this into a longer, better developed story, I'll be right there with an comment and a thumbs-up. Until then, I encourage you to keep your hopes up and keep improving.
#9 ·
· · >>AndrewRogue
>>Baal Bunny
Everything written about this story I agree with (Except for the Deuteragonists part but I'm not much of a fan of that one). Blackstone could use more fleshing out, the rest is great and golden.

Trixie's choice especially, which is simple and powerful and that final scene really sells it perfectly. Kudos - this was the last story to read them all and a perfect one to round it all out with.

Ooh, the big hole you exposed here is another thing that should be addressed, the 5-decade piece.
#10 · 1
As many of you guessed, I straight ran out of time. No review, no edits, no nothing. Not even a true ending, honestly. Ending as written was slammed in because I was out of energy and wanted to sleep. Not to say it's not the shape I'm looking for, but it was obviously pretty abbreviated. I wasn't too happy because I could see a couple gaping plotholes staring back at me (though the shop age still slipped by me - good catch) and my first drafts are notoriously messy.

All told, this story was kind of emblematic of my process as a discovery writer. I started with a concept (cute friend/ship story where Trixie or Starlight accidentally got turned into an earth pony) and just typed until it worked.

But wait! Starlight wasn't an earth pony. She was just a magicless, blank flank unicorn. Well, you see, I was really betting on Earthbound being the prompt chosen. Cheaty me. That said, the idea was flexible enough to fit a lot of the possible prompts, so I wasn't too hurt when it proved I guessed wrong.

I'd already been pushing with the idea of the source of the transformation being a magic thingy, so swapping over to the "spooooooooooky shop that's always been there... OR HAS IT?" was an easy cheat. Oddly ended up being kinda critical to the story structure though.

So, I was kinda torn and initially wrote the opening and had actually been geared for it to be Starlight giving Trixie a gift that rendered her magic-less. I even wrote the opening scene from that side. But as I was smashing my keyboard and contemplating who would be responsible, it just made more sense for it to be the other way around.

Blackstone didn't actually start as a crystal pony. I named the shop by digging into some classic magicians and thought Blackstone worked great as a pony name without changes. Then it dawned on me that it made a great Crystal Pony name (particular with the emblem) and, using a little bastardization of Sombra's backstroy, it made a fair amount of sense for a crystal pony to be kinda leery of magic ponies using, thus, that's how I rolled.

I kinda forget where the idea for the Destiny Trap trick came from. I know it ended up being a thematic tie into Blackstone's motivation (ponies don't change).

Showmareship is another case of just arriving at logical conclusions. The simple fact was I was writing the scene with Sunburst and realized "oh bugger, neither Starlight nor Trixie is actually doing anything to solve the problem here. This sucks."

Conveniently, the highly unorthodox (and honestly hella inefficient) plot Blackstone conducted, did actually kind of set her up as a very arrogant and showy pony. Not only did she use a thematic trick to mess with Starlight (and even steal her cutie mark), she literally took another pony who fell under her "bad pony" umbrella who was Starlight's friend and used her to carry it out. That's some serious investment in style. So, this allowed Trixie to pull some (admittedly specious) reasoning out and suddenly contribute.

The cave needs a little more work, because boy is that one an even bigger pull.

Anyway, the end is... yeah. The core idea was thus: Sombra was a shifty pony that was allowed to remain in the Crystal Empire despite some arguably bad things he did. It looked like maybe he was turning good, but then he twists and enslaves the whole Crystal Empire. So, Blackstone and the ponies who were part of the organization learned a harsh lesson re: redemption. Maybe it is a great thing to angle for. But when you're dealing with very powerful ponies, redemption alone is not safe. Ponies have cutie marks, which implies a certain solidity to their destiny, so the idea of a pony being able to backslide is basically built into their own mythology. You can never really change. Maybe she's made different and better choices, but to Blackstone, Starlight is still the same pony she always has been, and her talent with magic is scary.

(Also, It kinda failed to come up, but the core idea is that more than just Blackstone herself remains, and they've quietly been rebuilding power as they prepare to try and counterbalance Twilight's approach, starting with one of the most obvious threats: Starlight. So yeah. There's a network.)

Trixie actually giving up her magic and her destiny does heavily challenge that, because despite it still just being a "better choice" it is SUCH a contrary to her nature (as perceived by Blackstone) choice, that she has to reevaluate her beliefs. Is that enough? Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... I need to think on that. I kinda suspect more needs to happen to really sell it.

If anyone has feedback on that point, I would honestly appreciate it. Again, kinda the issue of being a discovery writer. I had an ending in mind (Trixie gives up her stuff, happy ending!), but not really the whole of it. Heck, maybe it needs a lot more or to be different.

Oh. And we totally ignore that Blackstone - a very dangerous pony in her own right - gets totally left alone in the end.

>>CoffeeMinion Another problem I have since I don't outline. Much like The Flame, The Fox, and The Frozen Blade, the first scene is often me writing myself into the story, thus it tends to be pretty easy to cut (or at least pare down massively) on an edit. That said, I think there is some value to it, but it should probably be a little more vehicle to really sell Blackstone and offer possibly a bit more insight into who she is.

That said, if I keep it, I might want to consider making it a flashback that takes place after the opening scene so we reach the actual conflict sooner.

>>Baal Bunny Yeah. I was debating a village connection, but I'm not sure I like it. I think Blackstone being a "moral" villain is better for her characterization. That said, it isn't outside my consideration. But yeah, a little more info not all dumped by Sunburst would probably be good.

>>BlazzingInferno Hey, it's almost like there is a unilateral agreement that just ending the story because I'm tired is probably a bad idea. >_>

But yeah. I also wavered a bit on the emotional fronts because I was trying to figure out whose story this was. It ended up sort of walking the line between the two of them, but it does cost a little bit of intensity in this version.

And yeah, figuring out when to drop first person for Trixie to maximize impact is always a trick. You might be right here.

>>JudgeDeadd Yeah, as I talked about, the showmareship was a bottom of the 9th idea, so it definitely would help to build it out a bit better.

I'll also have to double-check the perspective. I slip sometimes when doing that.

>>Not_A_Hat Yep. On top of everything else, it is a bit of lampshading. Still, probably wouldn't hurt to sell it just a little better, right?

As for the rest, does the commentary above (re: unrevealed motivations) sell it a bit better?

>>Trick_Question Thank you kindly, though I do think I agree that, particularly given I'm using a sort of bastardized origin for Sombra, I think a little clarification on Blackstone wouldn't hurt.

>>Posh Given how often I type Manehattan (it features prominently in Equestria Exiled), I'm surprised I actually made that "typo."

You are definitely right. I wavered on whose story this really was. I think focusing a little bit more there (or, at least, acknowledging it is going to be both and thus focusing tighter on both of their specific conflicts) would help things out. And particularly given a key point of this is their relationship and the interplay of their parts in this story, I think that's probably the right path.

Also good call on that amazingly blatant plothole I missed on the shop age.

>>Zaid Val'Roa I'm pretty good at doing one specific thing wrong enough that nearly everyone agrees. :p

>>Morning Sun Repeat my statements to Baal Bunny here as well! :p

And seriously, thanks to everyone who commented, read, and helped me snap up my very first medal. To be honest, I was kind of super frustrated with this story when I posted it (running out of time really left me sour), so all this was honestly really uplifting to read.

(Oh, and if anyone is interested in beta reading when I get around to revising, please lemme know. I'm low on readers these days.)