Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Hard Rain Falling

Twilight yawned as the elevator started up and carried them into the lower levels of the mountain. She silently wished for a nice cup of spicy coffee and made a mental note to get one before they left for Manehattan.

“What's this place?” Trixie asked. “I don't think I've ever taken this elevator.”

“Storage.” Twilight said simply. “Space is at a premium in Canterlot, but this is still the capitol. There are critical things here that must be kept secure… Also, the princesses are thousands of years old, so they have a ton of sentimental junk to store. I've got my own slot here, too — I’ve actually had one since I was a student.”

The elevator thumped and opened its doors, revealing a huge crystalline cavern that had been chiseled out into something slightly unnatural, yet nonetheless sparkly. The quartz ground was well-worn, more like a warehouse than a piece of the palace.

Ahead of them were a series of heavy doors, each at least four stories high and wide enough that Celestia could probably pass through with her wings fully extended. Each was shaped like an arch with a pointed top, and layered with bronze-like metal and the subtle glow of powerful, complex warding.

The hall of doors extended the length of a hoofball field, and there were shorter doors opposite them. The walls and ceiling were either crystalline or, in other areas, dark grey stone. A few ponies were scattered around the facility, all of whom were wearing the armor of the Royal Guard.

“Lady Sparkle?” one of the guards said with a bow. “So good to see you again. Princess Luna dropped off your sword along with some of the items from San Palomino that needed decontamination. Would you like your locker opened?”

“Yes, I would.” Twilight eyed the other doors while the word “decontamination” echoed through her head. “Has my sword been cleansed of any possible contamination yet?”

“Didn't need it. It was locked away in a magic-tight case.” The guard scratched his head, looking sheepish. “The Princess took it out in a safe place and left the container behind when transporting the sword. She told us to be careful with it, but, when we, uh, tried to put it away, it sucked a few ponies’ wellsprings dry. They're alive, don't worry. But I wouldn't touch it without protection. Like, lots of protection.”

Twilight cringed a bit, making a mental note to send the hurt soldiers some apology bouquets. “Sorry about that. Don't worry; I'm pretty sure I can handle it safely. I'll take it off your hooves so it doesn't hurt anypony else.”

The guard blinked and shivered. “Okay, if you say so. This way, ma'am.” He snap-turned and led them about halfway down the hall before taking out his keys. There were locks beside each of the smaller doors, and one of them had Twilight's cutie mark on it.

The guard pulled out a key — also with her cutie mark — and clicked the lock open. These doors, despite being smaller, were actually thicker and heavier to move, owing to their greater age.

“You know...” Trixie smiled and folded her forelegs. “I'm actually rather curious to see what the Grand Mage of Equestria has stored away under lock and key.”

Twilight snorted in a laugh. “Honestly, most of it is really boring. Family photos, old assignments I'm proud of, the uniform I wore as a filly at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, boxes of important documents like my tax forms… Though there is one thing you might be interested in.”

Trixie poked her head inside the unit and lit up like a firework. “My cart!”

“Yup!” Twilight walked in, following Trixie as the unicorn ran to the dilapidated cart. “I was going to surprise you by restoring it, but I haven't had time yet. Still, it's here, for whenever you need it.”

Trixie gave it a giant hug. “Thank you. Thank you so much! You don't know what this means to me!”

“Well, I knew that it was important to you. That's more than enough reason to keep it safe. But, I'm here for a sword. Stand back.”

Twilight's unit was rather spartan compared to the Princesses’. Bare walls, a few metal shelves, cardboard boxes, and a few display cases of diplomas. In the middle, however, was a barrel-shaped artifact meant to store dangerous magical items. It was black and silver, etched all over with wards.

On the side, near the top, was a simple crank. Twilight grabbed hold of it and spun it around, opening the top of the barrel. A soft white light glowed from inside as the two panels on the top split apart and Twilight’s sword levitated up and outside of its container.

“There we go. Time to see if I can hold this without something blowing up.”

Trixie blinked. “You… don't know that yet?”

“Nope.” Twilight snagged it with her magic, pointed it up, and experienced a sensation like hooks digging into her skin and sucking out mana.

The gem in the sword glowed bright purple, and the blade spewed out a purple fire.

“Aha!” Twilight cut off the flow of mana to the sword and let the sword settle back in the barrel. “Also, ouch, but I know what's going on here. You know how they give unicorn foals magic wands to practice with?”

Trixie opened her mouth to say something, but paused before speaking. “Yeah, but what does that have to do with your sword?”

Twilight reached out a tentative hoof to the blade, with in turn reached for the magic in her leylines. “This sword is like that. Look close at the gem. Most of it is blank, just a huge pipe for mana, not even storing any in itself. But it's pulling from my wellspring without going through my horn — and using every aspect of my magic!

“Nearly every core out there has a set few functions etched into it. This one has only one function: suck in magic and spit it out. Horrifically inefficient, but it can use tons of magic, and I should be able to influence the magic as it exits the sword to cast spells with it. No horn limitation!

“I'll need to practice a ton with it to really get the hang of things, but for now?” Twilight grabbed hold of the sword with both forehooves, then clamped down hard on the magic it was trying to eat from her. The flames still came for a moment, but only as bright as a candle, not the fountain that just scorched the top of her storage unit.

Eventually, that fire faded as well, and Twilight put the sword in her saddlebag. “There. Good sword. No burning unless I tell you to.”

Trixie chuckled. “Well, let's hope it doesn't set your flank on fire the second you lose control.”

Twilight smirked. “It's dangerous, but I'm actually not holding it back anymore. Like I suspected, it seems to remember what I ‘told’ it. I’ll need to push magic into it to turn it back on.”

Trixie sighed. “Would be nice if you didn't ever need to do that. I mean, make really dangerous guesses like that.”

“Yeah, but I'm the Grand Mage. Risk and danger are part of the job.” Twilight turned around and headed out the door. “Come on, Luna is waiting for us in the chariot bay. Next stop, the biggest city in the world!

Twilight yawned, then recalled her mental note. “But first, some coffee.”

“Here we are. Manehatten.”

Twilight’s hooves touched down on the familiar feeling of a small but thick cloud, and she opened her eyes, revealing the majesty of Equestria’s largest terrestrial city below her. Trixie landed behind her, the cloudwalking spell in her armor keeping her upright. Luna had teleported them to the southern edge of the endless expanse of buildings.

Unlike Ponyville and many smaller towns, there were no cloud buildings. Manehatten forbade them within city limits. This didn't stop pegasi from flocking there en masse both before and after the destruction of Cloudsdale, and they could be seen flying to and from every possible point. Many of them were taxis carrying ground-bound ponies to their destinations under the afternoon sky.

Luna dropped her head down to Twilight’s level. “Are you sure you don't want extra help? I have guards stationed here all the time. They can help if you tell me what you're looking for.”

Twilight shook her head. “No. I'm sorry, but for the time being, I want to try this on my own, without telling anypony in the military my specific objectives.”

Luna seemed to shrink a few inches. “Or me, apparently.”

“It's not going to be a regular thing, Princess. It's something of an experiment. We know there are leaks in RGIS, so I want to try to do something unpredictable. One step in a chain of tracking down the leak.”

“I… suppose I can accept that. Still, if you find yourself needing a place to stay, here.” Luna pulled out an envelope and gave it to Twilight. “Follow the directions inside. It'll take you to a secret place of my own.”

Twilight ran a hoof over the glowing, embossed runes of the paper, quickly deciphering them as something that would trigger a self-destruct if a non-alicorn opened the envelope. She embraced it, then tucked it safe and sound in her saddlebag. “Thank you, Luna. It means a lot.”

The Princess gave a hint of a sad smile, then vanished.

“Whew.” Trixie wiped her brow. “That was kinda tense. I thought she'd order you to tell her what's going on.”

Twilight pulled out a map of the city from her saddlebag. “I think she understands the value of having a little independence from time to time. I wasn't all that worried. For now, though, we should focus on getting our bearings and starting our investigation.”

Trixie rested her chin on her hoof. “An investigation for which we have no real starting point. Just a lot of random reports we can't ask the police about without revealing our mission.”

“Au contraire! We have the perfect starting point.” Twilight pinpointed their location, then looked out to her destination. Most of the buildings under her were shorter, low-income buildings in an old section of the town, and not too far was a huge industrial area near the bay. Several miles ahead, though, was the ever-beating heart of the city, and the tallest skyscrapers anywhere. “Come on, we need to flag down a taxi.”

“Oooh-kay…” Trixie kept an eyebrow raised, but went ahead and waved at a few taxis until one pulled beside them.

Twilight hopped over the yellow door and landed on some soft cloth seats that were in desperate need of cleaning. “Corner of 5th Avenue and 41st Street, please.”

“Oof.” Trixie tried to step over the door instead of opening it and landed face-first on the seat for her trouble. She pushed herself up and wiped her mouth with her foreleg. “Eeeyuck. What did I land on? Do I even want to know?”

“Probably not.” Twilight blew her mane out of her eyes as the taxi took off, racing across the city. She leaned in towards Trixie to whisper in her ear. “We're going to meet a friend of mine. I don't know if she knows that you're in my Guard yet, so be on your best behaviour and be prepared to re-apologize for your past transgressions.”

Trixie turned a few shades lighter and nodded. “Right. Sorry.”

“Not to me. Her. Don't worry, as long as you're honestly apologetic, she'll accept you.” Twilight gave her a pat on the shoulder and went back to watching the city.

They'd started in a low-density residential and industrial area, filled with cheap and poorly-kept single-story buildings. The speed of the chariot meant Twilight was already fighting her sense of balance over the growing structures under them. In seconds, they’d gone from a dingy working area to a bustling art-deco metropolitan center. They weren’t even in the densest part of the city, but the sheer quantity of ponies on the streets was already mind-boggling. No matter where one looked, they saw a multitude of ponies going about their day.

I always liked this city, Twilight thought to herself. Even if I never liked being in the crowds, it’s always been fascinating to watch.

“We're getting close,” the cabbie hollered over the wind. “Fare is six bits.”

Twilight nodded at him. “Ready, Trixie?”

“As I'll ever be. Who… Who are we going to see?”

She chuckled and said, “You'll know when we get there.”

The taxi flew down onto the street, coming to a landing in front of a seven-story mixed-use building, with apartments up above and a storefront at the ground level. Twilight let Trixie get out and soak in the advertising while she paid the cabbie, then walked up beside her.

The store was a fairly large size for the area, and every streetlight next to it had balloons tied to it. Pastel paint formed more balloons on the window, along with an assortment of colourful cannons and a smiling pink pony. Up above the windows, in large neon letters, was a sign reading “Pinkie Pie’s Custom Party Cannons!” The proclamations in the windows promised customized parties packed into powerful artillery.

“You're kidding…” Trixie’s eye twitched. “She has to be kidding.”

“Nope!” Twilight grinned.

“But… how?! How does she—?”

Twilight leaned over, put her foreleg over Trixie’s back, and sighed. “Trust me: don't ask those questions. Down that road lies only madness. Just roll with it, and you'll be much happier. Or at least, you know, saner.”

As Twilight led the way through the door, a little bell rang, catching the attention of a freckled mare behind the counter. Before the employee could even finish inhaling for the first word, though, a blur of pure pink energy catapulted up in front of her.

“Twilight! Wowie zowie, I knew I'd be getting an extra-special, super-duper visitor today because I had an itchy knee and rhythmic ear flap, and I said to—”

Twilight grabbed hold of the pink party pony with her forehooves and clamped her mouth shut. “I'm glad to see you too, Pinkie. It's been too long.”

The two shared a hug in relative silence, which really just meant Twilight stopped paying total attention to the deluge of words coming from her friend. There was a rhythm to those things, and she knew when Pinkie would calm down enough to start saying things that weren't wholly unfollowable.

Pinkie pulled out a tray of cupcakes from seemingly nowhere. “So, why are you… Wait a minute…” She leaned over to look behind Twilight.

Trixie put her ears back, then went into a bow. “Bearer, please forgive me for my past transgressions. I deeply regret what I did to you and Twilight those years ago, and wish to make amends.”

Pinkie blinked. “Twilight, where did you find a changeling Trixie?”

A laugh broke out of Twilight's mouth in spite of her best efforts. “No, Pinkie, this is the real Trixie. She's been in my care for the last year or so, and in my Guard for the last few days. We've become friends, and even trained and fought in battle together. And since we're here, she really is apologizing.”

Pinkie blinked, then smiled with a wave of her hoof. “Okie dokie lokie. Cupcake?” She shoved the confectionery plate in front of Trixie’s nose.

“Oh! Uh, sure.” Trixie took one, then looked to Twilight as if to say “That's it?”

Twilight nodded to respond “That's it.” and took a cupcake as well. “Much as I'd love for this to be a strictly social visit, Pinkie, I actually have Crown business to talk to you about. Is there someplace we can go to talk?”

Pinkie bounced with what was likely a mixture of pure sugar and pure happy. “Sure! Follow me!”

They walked through the showroom floor, passing innumerable demonstration cannons and walls lined with pre-loaded models “ready to take home,” towards a back room that was surprisingly normal. Some little bit in the back of Twilight's mind felt like she was about to sign up for a loan for a house. Pinkie even had a typewriter and a mechanical calculator on a sensible-looking desk.

A nod from Twilight as they sat down had Trixie sealing the room to prevent eavesdropping.

“Okay, Pinkie, first things first. This is sensitive stuff, okay? Don't tell anypony about what we're going to talk about.”

Pinkie nodded, zippered her lips, locked them, broke the key, then buried her head in cement.

She's been reading too many mobster comics. “Okay. I'm investigating a possible significant changeling presence in the city. I know you have an extensive social network. Have you noticed anypony acting out of the ordinary? Any relationships that have heated up suddenly, or anypony that's seemed far more tired than normal?”

“Hmmm.” Pinkie leaned back and folded her hind legs. “Now that you mentioned it, Vinyl has been quiet lately, and Octavia more tired than usual. I hear they've been having troubles, too.”

“That's go— er, well, that's terrible, but it's a possible lead.” Twilight pulled out her notebook and wrote their names in. “Do they still live in the same apartment?”

“Yeah, but they're probably not there now. Vinyl is probably setting up at her club, and Octavia is probably at practice.” Pinkie scribbled out a quick map showing the location of a spot in Central Park, and labelled all the ice cream vendors around it. The spot was a gazebo on the outer edge of the park, where trees met pavement and towers. “Octavia likes to practice in the park. If you hurry, I bet you can catch her.”

“Great! We'll be by again later, in case you remember anypony else. Thanks, Pinkie. I knew I could count on you.” Twilight dispelled the privacy wards and stepped through the door, but stopped as a pain ran through her stomach. “Actually, you may wish to go to Canterlot. Dash is… She's sick, and in the hospital. Spike is there, but she could use—”

Pinkie was gone, then back with three suitcases and two party cannons in tow. The time span in between was arguably nonexistent. “SorrygottagoseeDashiePepperminttakecareofthingsbye!” At that, Pinkie sped off, the remaining dust cloud the only reminder that a pony was even there.

“Just think: thirty years ago, this whole place was as dangerous as San Palomino.”

Twilight shuddered a little at mention of the desert, but as much as she'd hate to think of such a beautiful place having such a nasty underbelly, Trixie was right. Central Park was a magnificent beacon of nature's beauty in this day and age. Years ago, however, enough unsavoury characters gravitated to the night’s shadows to turn Manehattan into a corrupt mockery of its sunlit self.

Today, though, it was a bright, pleasant, summer afternoon. Ponies were laughing and playing on the grass and studying under the trees. A mare napped with her colt under her wing. An ice cream vendor — whose treats Pinkie had declared to be a nine out of ten — was quickly hoofing over popsicles to impatient foals. Traffic rushed down the street to their left opposite a bank, and overhead, hundreds of chariots soared to and fro with clients.

“I think that's the gazebo.” Trixie stuffed the map in her bag. “Where's our mare?”

Twilight looked around, but only really saw a crowd. The area was pretty dense with ponies, and that only served to highlight how far she had to go with her Ascension. “I'm… I'm not tall enough to see into the crowd. Give me a second.”

She put some power in her horn, then stood on tip-hoof to see the gazebo roof. With a spark she appeared there, and soon found her bearings, and her pony. Another spark had her right in front of Octavia. “Hi, Octavia!”

Octavia lurched back as if something had kicked a heart attack into her chest. “Aaargh! T… Twilight?! What the actual Tartarus?! How did… Why? What…”

Heh, so that's what it's like being Pinkie Pie. “Sorry, I couldn't see you through the crowd, so I teleported up to the gazebo and then down to you.”

Octavia flopped down to sit, though the cello case stayed dutifully on her back. As always, she was dressed impeccably. Her black tux with purple bow tie perfectly complemented her coat, mane, and irises, and the same could be said of her grey trilby hat with its purple ribbon. “It's okay, I guess. But sweet Celestia, my doctor is going to wonder where my newfound high blood pressure came from. Speaking of, where the heck did you come from? Do Grand Mages always just poof themselves in front of unsuspecting ponies?”

“Only when it's funny!” Trixie yelled, making her way through the crowd.

Twilight chuckled and shrugged. “She's basically right. But I'm sorry for scaring you.”

“Let her play!” somepony shouted.

Trixie fumbled her way to the group through the crowd. “You're really popular, it seems.”

“Curse of having a predictable schedule.” Octavia straightened her bow tie. “And it's a nice promotional vehicle. Something tells me you aren't here for music, though.”

Twilight put her ears back. “I'm afraid not. Is there somewhere we could—”


An alarm bell from across the street pierced the air, jabbing icicles into ears and fear into the ponies gathered. Some stood stunned, but quickly broke into a run upon seeing those quicker on the uptake fleeing the premises.

Twilight groaned. “Not another bank robbery. Get going, Octavia. We got thi—”


Twilight dropped to the ground and fired magic ahead of her, forcing it into a half-circle barricade of a barrier. She twisted the magic to a proper shield as bolts blasted pockmarks in it. Her horn never let up, pushing enough magic into it to turn it opaque with power. Trixie and Octavia dove in to join her behind it.

The assault didn't let up, even though the bolts were bouncing off her shield like little rocks whenever they weren't sailing overhead. Screams and pings in the distance signalled the desperation of the robbers. They weren't aiming for her specifically, they were just shooting in the general area of anything that moved in an attempt to clear the way.

She lifted her head up an inch, then dropped it back into the grass. No good. That's a powerful gun, and the first thing a bolt will hit is my horn. But I need line of sight to teleport. Going to have to build up a heck of a personal shield first. After that, I can see six no, seven combat solutions with a high likelihood of success.

“Trixie, do you think you could—” Twilight blinked. There was movement behind her.

Octavia stood up, hefting her cello case up with her. She popped the top open, and bolts pinged off it like thick armor. Twilight caught a quick glimpse of the musical instrument before Octavia slammed the lid shut so hard the whole case bounced. On the way back down, Octavia caught it on a single hoof, then tossed it up a meter or so in the air. A bolt intended for the earth pony’s head sent the case into a turn, the case landing upside down as its owner slammed her hoof down on it.

The back of the case flew open, and an automatic-fire cored cannon popped out and into Octavia's hooves. A bloodcurdling scream silenced the other guns while Octavia let loose at the robbers with a stream of bolts, chipping into the stairs they were standing on.

Twilight popped her head over the barricade, locking her sights on the robbers. One was behind a pillar near the entrance, and the other two were each hiding behind statues at either side of the staircase. “Or... that. That works too. Trixie, with me. Let's do this.”

“On it, boss!”

Twilight sparked herself up and into the air, far above where the guns were firing. Her legs reached for a ground that wasn't there while her eyes tracked their targets. As Trixie emerged from her own teleport behind her, Twilight sparked again, launching herself near the robber on the left.

All four of her hooves slammed into concrete at the same time, earth-pony strength rending deep cracks upon the stone. The force reverberated in a dark, low rumble that sent Twilight’s target  a half meter in the air.

Borrowing a note from Octavia, Twilight lifted both of her forelegs up and slammed her hooves into the robber’s back, smashing his face into the concrete and breaking the cannon mechanism he was carrying. She grabbed hold of the cannon barrels and rolled, landing on her side and dragging the robber with her. With a strike augmented by earth-pony magic , she bent the cannon barrels into a curve.

As Twilight got up, she noticed Trixie had just finished on her end, and had already tossed the other robber's smoking cored cannon off to the side, out of reach. The robber himself was out cold, having puked his guts out and presumably having been hit with a powerful sleep spell.

That left one, who had been in the center and was now swinging his head left and right in the confusion. He finally started to turn towards Twilight, and Trixie lit her horn in response.

“Cast in Harmony!” Twilight bucked off the ground with her hind legs, lighting her own horn. Trixie was in the air, too, and they passed each other over the head of the robber. Their magic touched as they did, humming in a bright, shining resonance that only the exact same spell could have.

Twilight twisted her body in mid air, targeting the last robber on the ground, and Trixie matched her movements. The robber, however, was wavering between them and wincing in the light, which was exactly what they wanted.

An instant formed between the two mares, their magic cycling with their heartbeats in a sympathetic rhythm. In one cohesive, clear, and infinite moment, their casting merged as both finished the combined spell as one.

“Double diamond!”

An eruption of light spilled over the robber, submerging him in what looked like molten glass. The flow rushed out, covering the other two robbers in kind, and came to a halt shortly thereafter. The glass crystallized into glowing panes, the triangular pieces locking each of the three hostiles safely in place, and not at all burned despite what it looked like.

The last of the robbers was stuck still, and fired his gun where he was last able to aim, but found only a solid wall to chip away at.

Twilight stuck a telekinetic blade in the mechanism's works, silencing it permanently. “I'd give up at this point if I were you.”

The mustachioed robber stared at her with steel in his eyes, and spoke with a gravelly voice. “Fine. Jail won't hold me anyway.”

“Good to know.” Twilight added a mental note to tell the Royal Police to keep an eye on him.

At that point, several dozen police ponies were landing nearby, including several paddy wagons. At the same time, ambulances were landing farther out to treat any wounded. In all, from the time the alarm bell rang to the time the first officer arrived was about thirty seconds. The only reason it was even that long was likely due to the police having a cautious approach towards gunfire.

Twilight folded her arms in thought as the badges swarmed in. How in Equestria these idiots thought they'd get away with a bank robbery here is beyond me. In San Palomino, sure, I could easily see it. But Manehatten? This place has its problems, but its police and disaster-response capacity is the best in the entire world, bar none.

“Twilight!” Trixie walked over, carrying a piece of metal in her magic. “Check it out. It's a piece from one of the guns. Cloudsdale Armories crest. I think these weapons are from the uprising.”

Twilight took it and held it against the sunlight. “It's possible. Manehatten PD will be able to trace it for sure. This is their turf.”

“Which is why I'd appreciate it if you didn't contaminate evidence,” a burly stallion in a trench coat muttered at them. “Dis here is a crime scene, capisce? And we're going to have to ask you and the music mare down there to come with us for interviews.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “No. My objectives take priority. I'll submit a written report for you later, and agree to an interview if I have time. In the meantime,Trixie and Octavia are coming with me.”

The stallion huffed and spat out his toothpick. “Maybe you didn't hear me. You and—”

Another officer pulled him just a bit to the side. “Bullet, that's the Grand Mage. She'll bring the palace down on our ears if you don't back off.”

Bullet stared her down for a second, then sighed; wandering off muttering something about politics and being too old.

Twilight let herself have a self-satisfied smirk, and breathed in the city. Civilization. Well-built towers crafted by professionals. Officials that usually try to actually do their job, and that respect her position.

Her eyes moved over the scene as emergency responders poured in, and spotted Octavia sobbing her eyes out behind the shield Twilight had put up.

“Trixie, on me.” Twilight led the way through the throng and down the stairs, then dashed across the street. She laid down by her friend, who had her head buried in her forelegs while resting on her cello case.

“Octavia?” Twilight asked. “Are you okay? Do you need an ambulance?”

Octavia shook her head. “No. I'm not okay. I mean, I'm not hit. But this is not okay. I... I need a drink.”

Clearly, there's more to the story that I'm not aware of. Twilight turned to Trixie. “Help her up. We'll walk her to her apartment.”

The two lifted the crying mare and leaned against her, steadying her as they slowly left the scene, cello in tow within Trixie’s magic. Behind them was a swarm of ponies descending on the bank, including press ponies who, thankfully, were too late to notice the Grand Mage and her unusual entourage.

A few blocks away, Octavia was walking much more steadily as they sighted her apartment. The buildings were tan brick and had the feel of old Manehatten. The area was much more affluent than the neighbourhood’s age would let on. Trees lined the streets, and fancy new street lights screamed out that this place had bits to burn.

Twilight followed as Octavia unlocked the front glass door and led them up a few flights of stairs. The apartment was at the top floor, and even had a double-door entrance.

Immediately inside was a kitchen with a bar, and beyond that the open-plan luxury of a classy lady’s home. The living room was down a step, and featured floor-to-ceiling windows with a door leading to a small patio. A music stand, a stool, and another cello rested by the couch, and a dining room was off to the left. A hall to the right led to the bedrooms and bathroom. Some of the walls were the same colour brick as the outside, though there was a different colour for the fireplace.

As soon as the doors were closed behind them, Octavia went to her bar, poured a glass of wine, and chugged the whole thing.

“I'm sorry about that. Really, I am.” Octavia grabbed a tissue and blew her nose. “I just hoped that part of my life was over.”

Twilight and Trixie took seats opposite her, facing the exit.

“Octavia,” Twilight began. “What just happened would have been stressful for anypony. You needn't apologize or be embarrassed about it, and I genuinely want to help. But to do that, I need to understand what's going on, and, well…”

Trixie poured Octavia another glass. “Why do you have a tommy gun in a secret compartment in your cello case?”

Twilight rolled her eyes at Trixie. “Yeah, that.”

Octavia took another gulp of wine and sighed. “My mom is a yakuza leader. My father is Roan and runs one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. I was an… attempt at peace between them. It didn't work out, so I went to the Bittish Isles to study when I was young, and fell in love with music.”

Just like that, everything clicked info place in Twilight's mind. “Ah, I see.”

Octavia scoffed. “Do you?”

“Probably. Based on what you just said, I'm guessing that since that bank isn't a national chain, it's probably owned by your father.”

Octavia scoffed again, but this time it wasn't aimed at Twilight. “He bought the damn thing after he learned I practiced in public across the street. I tried to move, but that just cost me fans when they got confused, so I moved back.”

Twilight nodded. “Makes sense. Moreover, I bet the robbery was actually done by a rival organization with the intent of making him look weak, and that you were a bonus target.

“Knowing you could be targeted at some point, your father gave you the gun and the dimensional pocket in the cello case, at great expense.”

Octavia buried her head in her forelegs. “Freaking smart ponies.”

And,” Twilight continued, “you resent him for it. You kept them because you knew you'd need to for your own protection, but they're an anchor to a world you want no part of.”

Octavia chugged the rest of her glass. “I guess you do get it. I'm sorry for being rude. I've… I've had a hard day. Hard few weeks, actually.”

Twilight swallowed hard. “About that, I have…”

There was a knock at the door. It was a gentle knock, one that seemed as normal, polite, and unassuming as one ever heard.

It put the hairs on the back of Twilight's neck up on alert. She nearly sprang into action to stop Octavia from opening the door, but ultimately kept still. When Octavia did open it, Twilight was surprised to find a lanky stallion in an extremely expensive three-piece suit.

“Daddy?” Octavia choked out. “What are you doing here?”

“I heard you were attacked.” The stallion grabbed her gently on both shoulders as Octavia turned away from him. “Are you okay? Did they hurt you?”

“I… No, daddy. I'm fine.” She wiped away her lingering tears, smearing some of her makeup. “Twilight, she… She protected me.”

The stallion leaned to one side, eyeing both of the other mares.

Alarm bells rang out in Twilight's soul. He was sizing her up, and knew she was doing the same.

He was a somewhat tall earth pony stallion, and rather thin, the lack of fat betraying tough, wiry muscle atypical for his pony tribe. His coat was a dusty blue, with his mane occupying a much lighter shade of the same. His suit was a dark grey pinstripe, fitted to perfection without so much as a wrinkle popping up or stitch out of place. What was most prevalent, though, were his dark green eyes. His irises felt like cold, liquid cloth that had been stretched taut without mercy.

This stallion is dangerous.” Aurora shivered. “I don't like him.”

He walked around his daughter, moving closer to them like a shark. “Well now. This is a most pleasant surprise. My name is Tailored Trade, and I am a local entrepreneur.”

Octavia snorted. “Is that what they call gangsters these days?”

“Indeed!” Tailored Trade said with a smile that made Twilight shiver. “Especially since there's never been proof I'm anything but!”

“Now then, Lady Sparkle. I must thank you for saving my daughter. Perhaps we could come to an arrangement of—”

Twilight held up a hoof for him to stop. “Thank you, but no. I'm already well compensated by the Crown, and my actions would have been the same for anypony in that situation.”

His smile only grew, digging into Twilight’s mind so she'd never forget. “A regular idealist, I see. Regardless, it seems I owe you a favour. Should you ever have need of my services, please don't hesitate to contact me.” He pulled out a business card and placed it on the granite countertop.

“I'll keep it in mind,” Twilight said as she put it in Trixie’s pocket. She resisted the urge to add “far in the back of” to the middle of the sentence.

“Now then!” He put his forehooves together. “Octavia, I want to see you for dinner tonight. You know where.”

Octavia turned up her nose. “No.”

Twilight put one of her ears down. “Octavia, I recommend taking him up on his offer.”

Tailored Trade didn't so much as flinch, but Octavia's look could have killed. “Excuse me?”

“I can't force you,” Twilight said, holding up her hooves. “But I do recommend it.”

“Thank you, Lady Sparkle.” Tailored Trade tipped his hat. “I'm glad to see somepony understands respecting one's elders. Octavia, I'll see you tonight.”

Tailored Trade left, closing the doors behind him. Ten seconds later, Octavia snapped her head to Twilight.

“Just what the buck are you doing?! You had no right to—”

Twilight leaned forward and looked her in the eyes. “Octavia, listen to me closely. Trixie? Seal the room.”

Trixie raised her horn and covered the walls in a soundproof barrier, turning every outside surface pink. “Ready.”

Octavia blinked, jaw agape. “What are you—”

Twilight held up a hoof. “Octavia, I talked to Pinkie. I asked her if she knew anypony with odd relationship trouble, and she mentioned you.”

Octavia slammed her hooves on her counter, causing Twilight to jump and a knot to form in her stomach. “What right do you have to—”

“Changelings.” Twilight said.

Octavia went pale. “What?”

Twilight sucked in a breath. “I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, Octavia. But, I’m here on a mission to investigate changelings in the city. I know this comes at the worst time, but I talked to Pinkie. Her… ability to spot coincidences is something I have faith in, and she led me here.

“I think there’s a good chance Vinyl has been taken by them, and one or more changelings have been feeding on you. If you’ve been feeling out of sorts lately, it’s entirely possible that the changeling is the cause.”

Octavia slumped down, and her hair frayed in real time. “I… I would know. Vinyl and I are just going through a rough—”

Twilight’s throat went dry. Memories of Chrysalis laughed in her head, and Twilight suppressed her own tears so Octavia could shed hers. “Changelings are able to confuse the minds of their victims. Obvious conflicts in your memories are smoothed over, your will to fight back against them is sapped, and you're left an absolute mess.

“I'm not saying I'm one hundred percent certain Vinyl has been captured. I can't say that until I meet with Vinyl. But Pinkie has good instincts — supernaturally good. So I must follow up on this.”

“Oh…” Octavia squeezed her eyes closed, and folded her hooves in prayer. “Oh Luna… Why…?”

Twilight forced down a bit of heartburn in the back of her throat. “I can't answer that. But I can say this: changelings don't normally kill those they capture and replace. Vinyl is almost certainly alive, likely being held somewhere in a cocoon and fed on.

“I want to try to capture the changeling alive. Even if they don't cooperate with an interrogation, I may find physical evidence that could help me save her. All I need is to get the changeling where I've set up a trap. Tell me, Octavia. Where is she?”

Octavia wasn't there. Or rather, she was there physically, but her eyes and mind were focused on something far away. The shock in her heart painted the room.

“Octavia?” Twilight tilted her head. “Octavia, I need to know, please. Where—”

“AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!” Octavia fell to the floor screaming, her cries rattling the windows. Collapsed, she shook and twitched in a fit.

“Uh-oh.” Twilight jumped over the counter, landing next to the mare as she stopped screaming. “Celestia... she's seizing.”


“A grand mal seizure. Potentially serious.” Twilight grabbed Octavia with a hoof, pushing the mare onto her side. “I don't know the cause yet. Maybe just stress. Go into her bathroom and get me some towels stat!”

“On it!” Trixie ran, bumping into the wall as she turned.

“Hang on, Tavi. It'll be okay.” Twilight wanted to pull her into a hug, but that would just hurt them both. Instead, she looked up at the clock.

Trixie ran back in with what was presumably all the towels in her magical grip. “This okay?”

“Plenty.” Twilight rolled a few up and put them under Octavia's head to cushion it. “She's been seizing for about thirty seconds. If it hits two minutes, we need emergency medical help.”

Trixie raised an eyebrow. “How do you know so much about this?”

Twilight sighed. “My grandpa is epileptic. And… Well, I'm not a doctor, but I know first aid and generally a lot about the pony body. And I know about a decent number of medicines and such. Just not enough to practice medicine. Not near enough.”

Trixie bit her hoof. “I know some healing spells. Several, actually. Only reason I survived the last few years. Should I…?”

“No!” Twilight caught herself, gesturing an apology to Trixie. “Sorry, Trixie, not a good idea. Most healing spells are stimulants, and that's the opposite of what she needs. Right now, there's a lightning storm going on in her brain, and it's making all her muscle neurons fire randomly. All we need is time. Hopefully.”

Both mares stood over Octavia, relaxing as the symptoms faded. Before long, Octavia was snoozing gently on the kitchen floor.

“Do we wake her?” Trixie asked. “I mean, is it safe?”

“Should be.” Twilight pushed on Octavia's shoulder. “Octavia? Are you there?”

“Mmmm…” Octavia groaned. “What… What happened?”

Twilight let out a sigh of relief. “We… We sort of deluged you with bad news. You panicked and had a seizure. How are you feeling now? Do you want us to get an ambulance?”

Octavia pushed herself up with a hoof. “A seizure? I haven't had one of those since I was a filly. What did… Wait. Vinyl! I have to go!” She bolted to the bedroom, and made an awful lot of noise looking for something.

Twilight raised an eyebrow and went to the doorway. Octavia was flank-deep in a box, ruffling through it a while before cursing and going to the next box in a long line of storage objects. Each container was filled with cored and enchanted objects, many of which Twilight was reasonably sure weren't entirely legal for civilians to possess.

“Octavia, you are not going to head out to try and rescue Vinyl,” Twilight said.

Octavia glared at Twilight with enough force to metaphorically melt a hole in the wall behind her. “Try and stop me.”

Twilight lit her horn. “You may wish to rethink that phrase, seeing as how you're dealing with a Grand Mage.”

Octavia paused, looking at her, then Trixie, then the window, seemingly calculating her odds and routes.

“Ahem.” Trixie coughed. “Also, you seem to be forgetting that even if Vinyl has been replaced by a changeling, we don't know where she is. You have nowhere to go to mount a rescue mission.”

Octavia scoffed. “Vinyl needs me for once, and not the other way around. I'll search the whole city door to door if I have to.”

“Not advisable.” Trixie smirked. “After all, who says she's even in the city?”

“I'll search the whole world if I have to!” Octavia slammed the top on the box that she had finished rummaging through and slung a bag over her back. “Nothing will stop me.”

“Or,” Twilight said with a smile, “you could cooperate with us. All we need to know is where changeling Vinyl should be right now to keep up appearances, and where she's going next. Then, we can set up a trap, catch her, and interrogate her. A whole lot easier than searching the whole city, right?”

Octavia narrowed her eyes, then slumped over and sighed. “You're right, you're right. I'm not thinking clearly. Too much wine. Getting tired, too.”

Twilight relaxed and smiled. “You did just have a major medical episode. Being tired is a normal symptom.”

“Yeah…” Octavia’s eyes darted around as she paused. “Normally, Vinyl comes home for dinner, and we, uh…”

“Noted.” Twilight turned to Trixie and whispered, “Let's start setting up a capture ward. We’ll set the trap here. After Vinyl comes in, she won't be able to both fight us and break the ward. We should be able to capture her easily then. After that, with any luck we'll have a starting point.”