Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

New Life

Twilight had her ears down during the entire walk to the Royal Spa, including a stop for breakfast. "I still can’t believe that happened. I can’t believe I punched Princess Luna."

Trixie was still looking like she had just witnessed the sinking of the Bellerophon. "I can't believe she started laughing afterwards!"

"I can't believe she was happy I punched her! Or that she's probably still laughing about it!"

"She probably is," said a new voice.

The two mares turned towards the voice as a stallion trotted around the corner. He was a small unicorn in Night Guard armour with a casual air about him.

"Pulsar?" Twilight asked. "What are you doing here?"

He leaned against the gilded outer wall of the spa, his dark colours the antithesis of the rest of this castle wing. "I know we haven't talked much personally, but Luna talks about you all the time. She likes you, wants you to think of her as an equal, rather than a superior. It's lonely at the top, Lady Sparkle, and Luna's heart grapples with that day in and day out.

"Don't worry about hitting her. She won't hold it against you, and all is more than forgiven. Really, you just gave her a gift more precious than anypony else has in thousands of years."

Twilight sighed. "And that just confuses me all the more. I hit her. Why isn't she mad? Why am I not banished?"

Pulsar laughed and shook his head. "If you think, even for an instant, that Celestia hasn't done the same, or worse, to Luna, and vice versa, you don't understand them. You were born into a family where your much older brother got his cutie mark for wanting to protect you. Celestia and Luna were born very close together. They love each other, yes, but they are also opposites on many things, not just day and night.

"They squabble, Lady Sparkle. And I don't just mean the Lunar Rebellion. They fight, argue, deliberately annoy, prank, and even hit each other. All the time. They don't normally show you, because they don't want you to think less of them, and they don't want you to get dragged into their ten-thousand-year-old sibling rivalry.

"Luna tells me that before the Chaos War, they used to find somewhere isolated and duke it out with alicorn-class magic just to relieve their pent-up frustration. I'm pretty sure there's a valley somewhere that owes its existence to that fact. You giving her a frustrated love tap after having a bottle shoved in your face doesn't even register on their scale of sisterly tussles."

"Wait, wait." Trixie held up her hooves. "So Twilight would have to create a new geological feature in order for them to consider something serious?"

Pulsar rubbed a hoof through his copper mane. "More or less, yeah."

"Okay, I guess I can understand that." Twilight folded her forelegs and raised her eyebrow. "How do you know that? That's indigo-cosmic-magick-level knowledge."

"Simple. I have indigo-cosmic-magick clearance." Pulsar turned away from them. "Don't get the wrong idea, I'm not a powerhouse of a unicorn by any stretch. I'm not even a student of one of the Sisters. I told you before, Lady Sparkle, I am not Luna's protector. She is mine. But, much like you and Celestia are as close as family, so to am I to Luna."

He pushed off the wall and started to walk away from the two mares. "But for now, that's all I'm willing to say."

Trixie's legs were made out of soft cheese, possibly Brie. Her back and neck muscles weren't faring much better, with the solidity profile of slightly melted brie. Her hooves slipped a bit on the gold marble, and her legs wobbled enough that she needed to lean on the wall to walk. There was a slight possibility she'd turn into liquid and flow down the drain. That... That was something else.

"Hey, Trixie. How was your massage?"

Trixie shuddered. "Heavenly. Transcendent. I never knew minotaurs could do that with their fingers. I didn't know muscles could ever feel like this. I—" Her half-melted back complained about the impact on the wall as she fell over and slumped. "Wow."

"You like it?" Twilight twirled around, showing off her new manecut. Trixie's earlier half measures to keep the out-of-control hair at bay looked like abominations by comparison. The stylists had precisely trimmed her coat into something full, yet tamed and smooth. Something only a pegasus could really have. Her mane and tail embraced their new length, hovering just far enough above the tile to avoid being soiled by ground or floor. Her mane kept her signature bangs, but the rest fell to one side, flowing over her shoulder like water. A silver hair clip kept it to her right, decorated with three small, shiny metal feathers. "I've always thought I've looked best with a long mane."

Words of pure elegance and extravagance slipped off the back Trixie's tongue and drowned in her stomach, lost forever. "It's beautiful."

"Thanks, I was worried it was a bit much."

"No!" Trixie slapped herself in the mouth, because it deserved it. "I mean, no, it's not too much. Not at all." Stupid sexy straight ponies.

"Wonderful! I'll have to send a picture to Rarity. She'll love it, I think." Twilight turned a corner, gesturing for Trixie to follow. "Come on, let's go to the hot tub area."

Trixie nodded, stepping lightly into the hallway choked with heavy mist. Beyond a large, wooden door seasoned by time was their destination. Lavender danced on her nose while a soft violin and harp duet played over speakers. The heat was just enough to continue what the minotaur masseuse started. Her hooves wanted to slide around on the wet floor, and her eyes protested over what she was seeing. Nothing could be covered in this much gold, and yet, there it was.

The pillars holding up the ceiling were gold-covered stone, the marble tile had huge gold flecks in it, the entire pool was made of gold, gold champagne rested in ice buckets, and at least eight gold alicorn-sized seats sat in various positions in the shallow pool. The gold was so bright it could fit through the steam filled air.

"I feel like they're going to take off a couple of my legs for spending ten minutes in here." Trixie dipped a hoof in the pool, and found that the water must have actually been ambrosia or something. "Are you sure nopony is going to be angry I'm here?"

"Trixie, relax. We can bring guests, and you are my guest. There's really only one rule for this area: If Celestia comes in, we leave. This is her one sanctuary from her nonstop work, but she rarely gets to actually use it. Other than that, as long as we don't deliberately trash the place, we're fine.

"Try one of the chairs. They're amazing. I mean, I love Aloe and Lotus' place in Ponyville, and I feel like I belong there more, but even I have to admit this place has no equal."

"Oh. Okay, I suppose." Trixie put a hoof on the first step down into the pool. Her fetlock turned to goo. The leg buckled, sending her tumbling forward and into the water completely. Her buoy impression was flawless as she bobbed around upside-down in the mineral-enriched mana of the gods.

"Trixie? Are you okay?"

"Trixie is unavailable right now. She is too busy being a liquid dissolving into nothing. Please leave a message, and if she ever takes solid form again, she will get back to you."

Twilight laughed, giggling all the way over to a reclining sofa just outside the pool. "It is something else. I don't want to mess up the stylist's efforts too badly, so I'm going to be over here, reading. But you really should try the chair."

When her body regained enough of its original, non-goo form, she waggled her hoof a little to move her towards a chair near Twilight. The water didn't just embrace her in a warm, sensuous hug, it was tugging her away from her host. There was a small waterfall emptying through the wall and into the pool, and the pool itself was draining on the other end.

Her butt bumped into one of the chairs, and she turned her body to line up and sit. Her head dipped under the water, and she sat up in a snap, flinging water up and over her. The chair itself was comfortable, and adjusted itself so she was leaning back with her hind legs pointing up.

"That's it?" She asked. "I don't see what—"

"Press the switch."

"Switch?" Trixie looked around, finding a little button on the wall next to her chair. It was also gold. "Ah, switch. Let's see what you—"

She pressed it, and dissolved instantly. Warm water was rushing, pulsing into her from all angles. There were no visible jets, just water melting her away like acid. "Best. Chair. Ever."

"Told ya!"

"I, Trixie Lulamoon, hereby surrender all remaining grudges and hostility towards Twilight Sparkle. Anypony that lets me experience this is obviously a good pony."

"Ha! Well, if I knew this was all it would take..."

"Not that there was any left to surrender. But if there was, this would do it. Sweet Celestia, I don't ever want to leeeeeave..."

The door to the spa went ca-chunk, opening with a creek and revealing an exceedingly pink pony. She stepped in and flapped her wings a couple of times, then wrapped her hair in a towel with her magic. "Oh! Pardon me, Twilight. I didn't think you'd be here."

"It's fine, Cadence. I'm not normally here, but after this morning I felt Trixie and I could use it."

"Oh, Trixie is here as well?" Cadence flapped her right wing, clearing out some of the mist. "Ah, there you are. How are you, Miss Lulamoon?"

"Busy being a puddle of goo in the best chair in history, Your Highness." Trixie waved a hoof to greet her. "I would stand and bow, but I think my legs have melted away and washed down the drain."

"Oh my! Twilight, you should know better than to introduce a pony to the chairs first thing! I swear, they're more addictive than chocolate." Cadence flourished her wings as she stepped into the pool, floating in the top like a swan over to the seat across from Trixie's. "Ah, just what I needed. A nice day of rest before my tour continues tomorrow."

"How's that going, by the way?" Twilight turned a page in her book. "I've heard things have been touch and go since Cloudsdale."

"Not a bad way of putting it. Cloudsdale turned the situation on its ear. Before they were mad at Celestia. Now ponies are just mad, period. At everypony. They don't know who to trust. I'm hesitant to say Auntie has gained any ground, but I can most certainly say that the Council has lost some."

"Aren't you a member of the Council?" Trixie shuddered as a burst of water rubbed into her neck. "Wouldn't that drag you down, too?"

Cadence shook her head. "As Princess of the Lost, I'm in a... unique position. I have no defined Duchy in land terms, and control no physical Duchy directly. I represent those who should have a voice, yet otherwise have none. Since my title is also 'Princess,' I'm only loosely connected to Celestia politically. As a result, I'm seen as separate from both the Council and the Diarchy.

"It's strange to think, but I'm probably the most popular national politician at the moment. A long way from the scared little orphaned filly I once was."

"Mmmm..." Trixie's words were just as melted as she was. The relative silence was glorious. Nothing but the playing of music, the bubbling of water, and the occasional page turn from Twilight. She must've died in Gryphonhelm, because this was heaven.

Cadence cleared her throat. "So, Trixie, fancy any stallions you've met in the castle?"

Trixie choked and coughed, on what she wasn't sure, but the results spoke for themselves.

"Oh no you don't, Cadence." Twilight kept reading, but somehow seemed to get a glare across without even looking up. "You're trying to put her in that shipping matrix of yours. She's my friend and I say she's off limits."

"Nopony is off limits to love, Twilight." Cadence opened a panel on one of the pillars, revealing a bowl of sweets. One of the chocolates then floated in a telekinetic field towards her mouth. "You'll learn that someday. It'll take me a while, but I'll find a pony to crack that supposedly asexual façade of yours eventually."

<<You wish, Heart Butt.>> Twilight stole away one of the chocolates as she spoke in flawless Roan. <<I'm about friendship, you're about love. You stay on your side of the fence, I'll stay on mine.>>

<<Oh, but you should have already figured it out, Twilight. I don't mind if you come over to my side a little. The more love the better!>>

<<You both speak Roan?>> Trixie shrank down in her seat. <<I didn't know if anyone spoke it here...>>

Cadence nodded while biting into a cookie. <<My real name is Princess Mi Amore Cadenza. I was born in Roan, and raised in Canterlot by parents that spoke Roan. At least, while they were alive. I go by ‘Cadence’ because it's less alienating for Equish Common speakers, which is most ponies.>>

<<Ah. I was born in Roan, too. Lived there until just before I got my cutie mark. After that, I joined a travelling circus...>>

"Oh, how wonderful!" Cadence tapped the thin torc around her neck, bringing it to life with light. A series of magic circles appeared in the air, spinning slowly as they arranged themselves. The center was the largest, containing a large number of what looked like cutie marks, each of which was connected to others by lines of various colours and thickness.

"Cadence, no! Bad Cadence!"

"Twilight, I'm doing this, and you can't stop me. Trixie, if you would be so kind as to show me your cutie mark?"

Twilight flipped another page. "Don't do it, Trixie. If you do, she will never give up. She will hound you like a diamond dog until she's matched you with somepony. If you're really unlucky, she'll try to match you with Blueblood like she did me."

"I still say you two could work. He could fit you into high society, while you could smack some sense into him, because you won't put up with his garbage ego."

"Never. Ever. Going to happen. I would rather carve out my gall bladder with a spoon. Covered in salt."

"Fair enough, fair enough. But that doesn't mean I won't succeed eventually."

Trixie raised up a hoof. "So you've succeeded before? Making matches, I mean."

"Of course!" Cadence tapped the smaller magic circle, scrolling through a series of parallel horizontal lines, each connecting two different cutie marks. "These are all my hundreds of successful matches, as well as relationships I've saved. And I have hundreds more of available ponies in the matrix, which means I might just have the stallion for you! Care to give it a try?"

Trixie stood up to reveal her mark. "Well, maybe..." The hot water was what was making the Great and Powerful Trixie blush, obviously. "But, could that spell be used to match me with... mares?"

"Oh, certainly! Love doesn't know the difference between genders." Cadence winked, then drew the mark in the air. A smaller version sparked with light, etching itself into the air and the matrix. Lines reached out like feelers from other marks, some attaching, some recoiling, others bonding and deepening. She tapped her hoof on Trixie's icon, revealing another small circle. When she dragged her hoof along the new grid, it changed to a symbol for female, then vanished into the large circle.

The lines shifted again and again as Cadence added ever more information, and she occasionally prodded with more questions about Trixie. One little fact, however, was brought up when discussing how Trixie came to Canterlot.

"Wait, Your Highness... Trixie is..." Trixie ducked down at the amused smile from the Princess at the use of third person. "I don't think this is a good idea, yet."


Trixie nodded. "I'm still being targeted by the Illusionists. I could be killed or taken at any time, and I don't want an innocent hurt because they got too close."

"Ah. Fair enough. That should be taken into consideration." Cadence dragged her hoof around the edge of the circle, and it spun as it shrunk back into the torc. "I'll just save the details. Whenever you want to give it a shot, let me know. There's plenty of opportunity out there for a unicorn of your talent and origin."

"Earth unicorn, actually." Trixie deflated. "I'm a hybrid. I don't like to advertise it, since a lot of unicorns look down on us, but if I ever do want to find love, I have to be upfront about that."

"Hun," Cadence said as she unfurled her wings. "I'm a hybrid, too. Winged unicorn instead of earth unicorn, which makes me look like an alicorn, sure, but I get plenty of heat for my pegasus heritage, believe me. Anypony that ignorant and bigoted isn't worth your time, and they certainly aren't worth mine. If I know of that kind of attitude in a pony, they don't get put in the shipping matrix."

"Oh, okay. That's, good. Really good. But, I'm..." Trixie tried to wrap her mind around something, only to have it slip away. "Why do you call it a shipping matrix? It sounds like something a parcel company would have."

The other two shared a little laugh before Cadence said, "That's simple enough. It's from the word relationship. If you 'ship' ponies, you want to see them together. From the matrix I have, I can figure out who would be compatible with who. I'm something of a professional shipper."

Twilight rolled her eyes. "More like 'rabid,' if you ask me."

"Which reminds me, I met this dashing young—"

"Not on your life." Twilight turned another page. "You and my mom need to back off. If I ever find love, it'll be on my own terms, period. It's not like I'm short on time."

"Aww, don't you even want to—"


Rainbow burst through the door to the spa, slipping around on the wet tile for a few seconds like a foal learning to walk. "Twilight! Twi-Whooooa... Close one. Twilight, come quick!"

Twilight hopped off the couch and tossed her book on its cushion. "What's wrong, Rainbow? Is Spike hurt again?"

"What? No, he's sleeping like a baby. It's Fluttershy! She's having her baby! Labour started about twenty minutes ago!"

"Oh!" Twilight sparked herself to the other side of the pool and next to Rainbow. "Let's get going! We need to find Luna or Celestia to see if they can teleport us. Trixie, Cadence, you two coming?"

"The other princesses aren't in the city, Twilight." Cadence stood up, dripping with mineral water. "They're both off doing other things at the moment. Luna I think is in Manehattan, Celestia is in Prance. You'll have to take a chariot. I'll catch up once I've dried off."

"I'll stay here." Trixie rubbed her foreleg sheepishly. "I'm not up to going back there, not yet. Not after all that's happened."

"Understood. Rainbow, let's go find a chariot."

"Hang on, Fluttershy, we're coming!" Twilight squinted against the light of the sun, scanning for the farm. Her hooves held firm on the tiny chariot as Rainbow abandoned all pretense of a smooth ride in favour of pure speed. "I think I see Sweet Apple Acres. We're not far now!"

"Thank you, Captain Obvious." Rainbow gave the chariot a buck as she went into a dive. Terminal velocity was scoffed at by her power, the air currents around her drilling through the atmosphere and clearing their way. Within a few minutes, they were landing outside the farmhouse.

Twilight sparked herself to the door, swinging it open and rushing inside. The only sound was her hooves on the wood floor, not the bustling activity or screams of a mare in labour that she expected. "Hello? Anypony here? Is Fluttershy okay?"

"In here, Twilight!" Applejack yelled out from deeper inside.

Twilight followed the source with Rainbow close behind. Rounding through the hall, she found Applejack, Apple Bloom, and three zebra foals being taught to read Equish words by the latter. "What's going on? We heard Fluttershy was in labour!"

"She is! Well, was." Applejack tilted her hat up to scratch her head. "Darndest thing. She only took twenty minutes to give birth. Gotta be some kinda record."

"Wow." Rainbow fell to her haunches. "Twenty minutes? I knew she had foal-bearing hips, but jeez. What, did the kid buck its way out through her stomach or something?"

"Tell me about it. I don't think it's a record, but it's definitely on the far end of the distribution curve." Twilight looked around the modest room, eyeing the zebras on the couch making guesses at Apple Bloom's flash cards. "Where is Fluttershy? At the clinic?"

"Nah, she and Big Mac are taking some time to themselves to be with their new foal. Yer dad and Zecora are in the room across from theirs. They were pretty good at being midwives once they stopped arguing between potions and modern medicine."

"Heh, yeah." Apple Bloom shuffled up her cards. "Fluttershy screamed at them to shut up and help her. It was so loud I think she out-did Luna. Never done seen a stallion as scared as yer dad in that moment."

"Heh, well, as long as everypony is healthy. That's the important thing." Twilight sat down next to Applejack, who offered both newcomers some reserved bottles of cider, only brought out for special occasions. She gulped down the amber spice fluid, feeling it caress her tongue and warm her insides like sunlight itself. "How are the zebras doing?"

"Ya mean those three?" Applejack took a swig of cider. "As well as you could expect. They're shaken, sad, and scared. They're in a strange land, everypony they ever knew is dead... But they're adaptin'. Openin' up, slowly but surely. We're teachin' them Equish fast as we can so they can talk with us.

"Good news is that they've accepted Zecora as a guardian, and they're comin' round ta ponies, too. 'Specially Fluttershy. They're startin' ta see all us as kind of a big, extended family. Which is good, 'cause that's what we are. Family."

"Knock, knock!" Lucid poked his head out of a curtain functioning as a makeshift door to the hallway. "Everypony, ze new mother would like everypony to see the latest member of the Apple Family!"

The entire group silently made their way down the hall, heading into the room on the far right. A large cushion bed dominated the room, with a low table and a lamp next to it. The thick curtains and their enchantments blocked out the light well enough to make it look like night, leaving the lamp as the only illumination. The darkness had a warmth to it, bringing everypony together to share their hearts.

On the red, warm bed was Fluttershy, partially covered with a blanket. Lying next to and behind her was Big Macintosh, nuzzling his wife, providing what comfort he could. Resting in Fluttershy's forelegs was a small, swaddled bundle.

"Everypony," Fluttershy said, her voice even more breathless and hushed than ever. "I'd like you all to meet my daughter." She nudged the cloth, revealing a small earth pony foal, resting comfortably in her mother's care. She had a bright yellow coat and a burnt orange mane. "Apple Butter."

"Awwww," every mare other than Fluttershy herself cooed.

Rainbow blushed and cleared her throat. "I mean, she's awesome, Fluttershy. I bet she'll be running around yelling about her cutie mark in no time!"

The three zebra foals approached, each climbing slowly over the other to get a better look. It didn't take them long to enter a tussle for the right to get closest, and even less time than that for Zecora to put a stop to that with one flare of her nostrils.

<<Approach calmly and quietly, girls.>> Twilight stepped back, giving them a clear path.

They didn't approach that way. Ears down, they slunk low to the ground and gingerly crept around behind Twilight. Each made their way through and under her legs, sniffing the air around the foal and cooperatively piling on each other to look at without saying a word.

Three foals, one infant... Look at them. Twilight lowered her head down to Apple Butter and gave her a light nuzzling. Hey there, my little pony. Welcome to Equestria. My name is Twilight Sparkle. Do not worry or want, as you have a loving family. Do not hate or hurt, as it is friendship that is the key to life. Do not fear or cry, for I am an alicorn, and I will protect you. I will protect your family. I will protect all that we hold dear, for as long as my heart still beats.