Alicorns · 2:11am
This is a blog post about alicorns.
I must thank Bronycurious for his recent commentary on alicorns and ascension, which helped me solidify where I stand with regards to Twilight's ascension and Cadance's existence. Below is my thoughts on both matters.
I will pose my thoughts on Twilight's ascension in the form of a response to that video. Bronycurious argues that headcanoning Celestia and Luna as naturally born alicorns, and apparently the only ones in Equestria, devalues Twilight's and Cadance's ascensions because it puts the sisters on a level no other pony can reach--anypony can ascend, but there are only two natural alicorns. This diminishes what Bronycurious sees in the ascension itself--a theme of newly established equality with Celestia and Luna--and makes the physical change entirely superficial; they might as well have received medals for their grand accomplishments, and we fans might as well regard the wings as nothing more than a "More princesses!" mandate from Hasbro rather than any sort of overarching theme and storyline within the past three seasons.
I disagree completely, as it's apparent that Magical Mystery Cure (MMC hereafter) devalues the very event it portrayed and whatever themes might be associated, even before we start to consider meta-interpretations.
Let’s examine a summation of MMC in the form of a statement: "The events MMC depicts are the culmination of Twilight's journey and character development since the pilot, and she is now Celestia's equal." We can infer this summation of the episode based on a number of Celestia’s lines and Twilight’s new social status.
Why, then, is the capstone event, the one that actually heralded Twilight's ascension, one in which she did nothing truly special? All she did was escort her friends to their proper places, convince them to give helping each other out a try and give them back their elements. Anypony in Ponyville could've done that, even ponies who weren't friends with the mane six--in fact, they probably would've once they got over the shock of everything being messed up.
Yes, she finished an incomplete spell, by writing a few lines into it which just happened to work the first time she tested them. If someone handed you an incomplete essay and asked you to complete it, you could do the same, could you not? All you'd have to do is write. Whether the essay could be considered well or properly written would have to be determined afterwards through examination; perhaps you would have done a good job the first time and perhaps you wouldn't have, but in the latter scenario all you'd have to do is edit your work or erase it all and try again, both of which Twilight could have done, assuming another flawed version of the spell didn't atomize Ponyville or something. What does this have to do with her arc throughout the series? The fact that she added a friendship-based stanza to the spell? It was an incomplete spell; she could have added literally anything. She could have written that the caster has to pray to muffins while eating pancakes in the middle of casting the spell, so the result would make baked potatoes appear out of nothing. She could've attached The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock to it. Why not? How could she have known what lines would produce what result when interacting with Starswirl's lines? She didn't know, hence her complete bewilderment at her ascension.
Why, then, did Twilight neither learn anything nor grow or change at all before ascending? "My friends are important to me." and "Friends help each other when something's wrong.": those are things she learned in the pilot, nevermind the rest of the series and all the things she's experienced with her friends prior to MMC. The events of MMC were in no way a test of her bonds with her friends or of her understanding of friendship. All she did was convince them to do things that weren't at all strenuous, difficult or dangerous for them.
Compare all of this to The Return of Harmony, in which Twilight learns something about friendship (that it is something even the greatest of schisms can't completely undo) and uses that knowledge to save the world from a great threat alongside her friends (and in so doing puts all six of them on equal footing with Celestia and Luna, who also saved the world from Discord). If there is any episode that justifies an ascension for Twilight, it is surely this one...so why didn't she ascend then? Is there a delay to ascension? Was MMC the last small amount of Godhood Experience Points she needed to acquire before leveling up? Was all of this really the doing of Starswirl's spell instead of Twilight's character development (which undermines the notion that there's actually a theme or meaning to the ascension in a completely different way)?
Or is there truly no grand theme or meaning to any of this, and Twilight obtaining wings is nothing more than an excuse for Hasbro to create toys of her with wings and a new dress? Or did Hasbro mandate nothing and MMC is simply a poorly written episode? I choose to believe it's one of these two possibilities, personally leaning more towards the former. Regardless, Twilight's ascension was already devalued in its depiction. Placing the sisters further above her despite her ascension isn't going to make it any less meaningful. Thus I see nothing wrong with rejecting what the ascension is supposed to represent either by outright denying it, as I do, or through establishing the natural/ascended alicorn distinction, which leads me to the first part of my original point. Since watching MMC I was on the fence about Twilight having ascended, but not anymore. It's more than choosing not to acknowledge it in my own works; I just can't support it at all. I hope and trust that S4 will deliver quality writing regardless, but MMC, in my eyes, was a profound mistake. As Bronycurious put it, it’s just toy bait.
(From this point on, we’re getting strictly into headcanon. Full speed ahead!)
Where, then, does that leave Cadance? Well, unless Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell is canon, she's still an anomaly, even when you take into account all the worldbuilding The Crystal Empire did in an attempt to give her a proper place in the world. While I own the book I've yet to read it, but that doesn't matter because I have a different idea in mind.
In the time before Nightmare Moon, the city that is known today as The Crystal Empire was the capital of a much larger nation: Esperia (officially Cristallo Impero di Esperia), a country of espers--commonly known as crystalponies--on the other side of the world, beyond the oceans. The espers were masters of the heart and the mysterious energies within: light and darkness, magical forces that respectively embodied positive and negative feelings. They used their knowledge of these forces to safeguard and maintain their sacred relic, the Crystal Heart, which projected the light in their hearts throughout the world.
Every sentient life has a heart, and each heart is made of light and darkness, but those forces, if provoked enough, could overwhelm and consume the heart. The espers, who used them regularly as a source of magical power, were particularly vulnerable. One day, a unicorn esper succumbed to the darkness in his heart, but rather than being ruined by it, he emerged a changed, stronger creature. Where others wrestled with and were ultimately consumed by their darkness, he embraced it, letting his very being become darkness itself. He took the name Sombra and spread his shadow throughout Esperia like an inky cloud. Numerous espers stood against him, shining with valour, and they were all defeated, their light smothered and their hearts corrupted until all they knew was despair and fear. One by one they were all bound in the darkness, shackled to Sombra’s will.
With an army of slaves, Sombra invaded the Esperian capital. He filled the Crystal Heart with darkness and murdered the queen and king. He would have killed their daughter as well, but the princess was secreted away from the capital along with a group of retainers. As Esperia drowned in misery and ruin, the princess and her cohort fled their lands and crossed the vast seas, in search of a distant foreign nation only known through rumours and hearsay from travelers; where it was said ponies who ruled over day and night lived. They landed in Equestria and, upon reaching the then-intact capital of Everfree City, told Celestia and Luna of what had transpired in Esperia. The sisters, as we know, journeyed to Esperia to end Sombra’s reign of evil and sealed him in the frozen north, but not before he cursed the capital to disappear.
By the time its capital vanished, Esperia had already been devastated by war with Sombra and suffered a catastrophic population loss, for the dark conqueror had all unicorn and pegasus espers, right down to the foals, exterminated so that the citizens who remained wouldn’t be able to circumvent his defenses and restore the Crystal Heart to light. The loss of the capital put the country in such disarray and destitution that it never recovered. In the more-than-a-millennium that followed, Esperia dissolved, the remaining espers who hadn’t been taken to the capital as slaves scattering throughout the world. The few esper refugees in Equestria, including their displaced princess, were made citizens by the royal sisters. They remained in Equestria and as the generations passed their blood mingled with that of their foreign cousins.
Mi Amore "Cadance" Cadenza, now Queen of Esperia alongside King Shining Armour, is the direct descendant of Esperia’s royal family. While she is only part esper and mostly equestrian, she still carries the gifts of her ancestors:
-A hereditary cutie mark: the heraldry of the Royal Family of Esperia. This is the reason why one of the espers in The Crystal Empire recognized her as his sovereign when she flew over him: it is a cutie mark that only espers of royal blood can have, and they always receive it regardless of their special talent. He called her "Crystal Princess" rather than "Crystal Queen" because she had yet to be crowned at that point.
-Being a winged unicorn. All espers of royal blood have wings and a horn, but they aren’t alicorns; they are neither immortal nor notably more powerful than other mortal ponies, and they don’t embody the traits of all three pony subspecies as actual alicorns do. The subspecies whose traits they most strongly represent is random; in Cadance’s case, it’s unicorns. Cadance has never ascended to true alicornhood but all espers, being ponies, have the potential to ascend just as all equestrians do.
 Fun fact: There is a real breed of Italian pony called “Esperia Pony”, or “Pony di Esperia”.
 Equestrians are so used to their own princess(es) that addressing foreign rulers as such is a common mistake when they travel abroad. That's why Mrs. Peachbottom called him "Prince".