Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Mind Matters

“Twilight, what should we do?”

A small voice in Twilight's mind shouted about the question, but the rest of her yelled back about seventeen other things going on. Sweat was beading on her head, and her knee was shaking like she was on a live wire. Tactical option: destroy the circle. Probability of significant structural damage to hotel: seventy-eight percent. Breaking circle first may spare the hotel damage, but may detonate the circle. Power storage unknown. Power emanations are not strongly detected, but blood is very magic-dense. Symbol three looks like a tri-lemma, but could be something else entirely. Power draw is internal, and the blood must have been highly concentrated to support the magic and stay solid.



Twilight blinked after a ration bar bopped her in the face. “Hmmm?”

Trixie was standing there, pointing to the circle with both hooves. “What. Do. We. Do?”

Twilight looked back at the circle, and opened her mouth when another ration bar was lifted into the air. “I don't know. I can't resolve these symbols. I'm out of my depth, which is saying something. We need help.”


“Luna. Let's go find her hidey hole here in Manehatten.”

“Uuuhhhh… Are we sure this is right?”

“Pretty sure.” Twilight looked up from her paper, then at Trixie and the mountains of garbage around them. The warehouse before her had been abandoned for years, and was never fully torn down when the site became a dump. The back of it was covered in dirt and trash. In fact, the path to get to where they were ran over part of the building, hiding it from view on approach. Somehow, there was still a power line to the building, and from the buzz, it seemed live.

“It just doesn't seem… Luna-y,” Trixie said. “She's a princess, after all.”

“Ah, but that's exactly what it should be! I'm pretty sure she's kept this a secret from the Council. Besides, this is just the first step.” Twilight held up the paper for Trixie. “This is less a map and more a scavenger hunt. To get where we're going, there's a fair amount of travel left.”

Trixie took the paper and made a face like a pony who hadn't studied for a final. “Underground? In a dump?”

“Apparently there's a tunnel here. Come on, let's go find the entrance.” Twilight marched forward to the large sliding door of the decrepit warehouse. The rust and garbage water combined to make a smell that laughed at those without a tetanus shot. The door resisted her magic grip through the sheer amount of thaumic waste in the dirt, to say nothing of the sorry state of its mechanism.

Twilight managed to get her armored head and neck inside, and pushed with her shoulders. The door budged a little, but not enough to get all the way through with her armor deployed.

“What's it look like in there?”

Twilight turned up her nose as it itched. “It looks like… like…” She held back her breath as much as she could, but to no avail. “AAAAA-CHOO!” She sniffled.

“Don't you have a filter in your armor now?”

Twilight swallowed something unpleasant. “I do, but psychosomatic effects are a big part of sneezing. There's about two inches of dust on the floor. Hang on.”

She grabbed hold of the sliding mechanism and forced it directly, opening the door another few centimetres and stumbling in, Trixie close behind.

Trixie waved her hoof to clear the dust, but just stirred up more. “Ugh! This is disgusting! And we just came from a literal dump!”

Twilight eyed the piles of stinking goo scattered about, each of which looked like a mixture of random biological matter well into biodegradation and thick dust. The floor was otherwise clear, and made of concrete that was chipped and cracked everywhere.

To their left was an elevated area, with a large ramp in the middle granting access to it. It was railed off with steel, as if safety was a thing that could be had in a place like this.

The windows above the door let in just enough light that they could see, while those on the opposite side revealed only the dirt and trash that was slowly consuming the building. Twilight thanked her lucky stars Aurora could filter out most of the stench as Trixie rooted around in her bag and pulled out her own gas mask.

“Good thing I picked this thing up when I found out I was heading to San Palomino.” Trixie said, her voice muffled. “What's next?”

“Next is solving the riddle she left me. See the border in between the steps?” Twilight held up the paper. “Those are instructions. To proceed, we need to read that, somehow.”

Trixie blinked so hard Twilight could hear it. “Uh, I thought that was just a fancy page break or something. How does a pony read that?”

“I'm not sure, but I have a few ideas.” Twilight lit her horn, conjuring a little spell to create an orb of light. Leaving the paper on a relatively clear spot on the ground, she poked the orb and let it do its thing. It shifted through colours, tweaking the wavelength and composition of light ever so slightly each second.

After the spell poofed away from being complete, Twilight at first decided to mentally swear at it, but the motion was held up by the decency committee in her brain. Instead, she went to step two: barriers.

One by one the two mares summoned weak barriers of different colours, blocking out narrow wavelengths to try to reveal a hidden message. It wasn't until Trixie's stomach growled that either said anything.

“Yeah, I'm not seeing it, Twilight. And we've been at this a while. It might have been quicker to just send a telegram.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes at Trixie. “And leave a puzzle from the Princess unsolved? Not happening. I like puzzles, and I'm not about to let Luna beat me in—” Angels started singing in her head, followed by glorious trumpets and a release of doves. “That's it!”

“What's it?”

“It's a puzzle!”

There was a beat.

“Uh, Twilight, we know that.” Trixie said, scratching her head through the mask.

“No, don't you see?” Twilight pulled out her telekinetic blade, then forced it down in size to the thickness of a needle. “The puzzle is to cut out the pieces along these lines and rearrange them to form the message!”

“But if you're wrong, you'll be destroying our clue.”

“I am not wrong, and I'll prove it!” Twilight sliced up the paper, piece at a time, careful to avoid going off the lines by feeling the subtle rip as her blade cut through the fibers. Eventually, she had a few dozen little pieces of paper dancing in her magic. One by one, she found matches, forming letters out of the lines she didn't cut.


Trixie nudged the last little piece in place. “Well, that's delightfully cryptic. Amazed that it was a puzzle, though.”

“Told you so. And…” Twilight scanned the warehouse for anything yellow, settling on a splash of paint on a railing. “Looks like we found the yellow. But how to spin it?”

The two trotted to the rail, and the colored piece was attached to one of the vertical poles holding up the railing. It was an end piece resting at the bottom of the ramp to the elevated area, and was fastened to the rest by a piece of plastic piping.

“I think I got it.” Twilight grabbed hold of the metal ring, pulling out away from the pole. Steel groaned in protest, but yielded to the strength in her legs. It gave way after only a moment, and a tingle up her spine told her this was it. She then clamped down on the pole with her magic and twisted. Despite being half buried in concrete, it turned.

The sound of rusted gears and chains clamored in the warehouse, followed by the wails of startled crows and seagulls. The clinks and clanks of metal felt less like a mechanism and more like an earthquake. In jerks and spurts, the concrete ramp dropped down into the earth, kicking up a fountain of dust and a hole in the ground.

“Well, I’m glad I put on my gas mask.” Trixie waved around her hoof and coughed like she had a hairball.

“I can't even see inside it yet. What possessed Luna to build something like this? Wait, stupid question. It’s Luna! Theatrical craziness is her bread and butter, and possibly jam. So, the question is, what do we have here?”

“You mean other than enough dust to choke an elephant?”

“A herd of elephants. But I think what we’re looking at is a tunnel entrance.” Twilight aimed her horn down the hole, firing a thin line of magic into the void. It flew straight and true, scattering the darkness and revealing a deep tunnel. “Yep! What we’re looking at is one of the original tunnels used by the earth ponies in the city during the period before reunification. Built brick by brick to shelter untold thousands from pegasus attacks.”

“Eeyuck. And now used as a sewer.” Trixie gagged.

“Actually, that’s a common misconception. The lower, center area can occasionally be filled with water, but it's not sewage. It’s rainwater, and some river water as well,  from the rare occasions when the rivers flood. If the weather is dry, the floor is just damp.”

“I just hate underground spaces. Your escape options get cut down to a nub.” Trixie paused for a moment. “Wait, if these tunnels are so extensive, what if the changelings are hiding down here?”

Twilight scanned an upcoming intersection with her light. “Possible, but very unlikely. These tunnels are not abandoned. It's estimated that there are up to two-and-a-half thousand homeless ponies living in them, but many think that's a painful underestimation. They are mostly tolerated by the Duchy, but their presence means the police regularly patrol the network. Not to mention, if the homeless found themselves targeted by the changelings, they might try to solve it themselves, which means getting violent. Not only would that be high-risk for the changelings, it would put the changelings under a spotlight.

“That doesn't make this place safe, though. Stay on guard.”

Trixie lit her horn. “Makes sense to me. Let's hurry and find our exit.”

“Thankfully our map is simpler now, but we still have a long way to go.”

Cloud Burner stretched and yawned as he landed in front of the restaurant, folding his wings after giving them a good shake. “And that's that. Shift over. Smooth Sailing, your turn.” He hopped out of the chariot, and the young lad scrambled over to him.

“Yes sir!” He beamed. “Thanks again for this chance.”

“Gotta stick together if we’re going to rebuild. Just stick to the script, and be your usual nice self, and you’ll rake in the tips.” Cloud refilled the takeout-menu pouch on the side of the chariot, then waved the kid off into the sky.

With another yawn, he wiped some sweat off his brow. Cloudsdale was still a huge city, but his family restaurant now had a new feature: direct sunlight. The core, the monster center of the city, had shed most of its outer layers. What was once tightly controlled and contained was now spreading out into the sky. Ironically, that now meant that non-pegasi were reliant on pegasi to get around, and pegasi were reliant on non-pegasi for fares and economic stability. The extremists had actually brought the city closer together than ever before.

“Time for dinner!” He trotted into the restaurant and ordered a glass of wine and his favorite pasta dish: fettuccine alfredo. It had all the fat and carbs for a pegasus clearly still in the prime of his life and not at all about to spiral into a mid-life crisis.

Afterwards, he ordered one more glass of white, took it in, savoured it, and slumped down in the booth as his worries melted away.

“It's only 6:30 and you're drinking. Typical.”

The worries staged a counter-attack and took all new territory. He looked up at his ex-wife and that sexy little red dress she wore to torment him. “Jazzy, you're full of it. For my entire adult life, until recently, I was in the military. To become Celestia’s Guard, I had to be an outstanding soldier, which included never getting drunk, always being ready for battle. Quite frankly, I've had more wine in the past few months than I've had all my life.” He put on a grin and aimed it right in her green eyes. “Though I suppose I should credit you for that.”

Jazzy flicked a hoof through her golden mane. “Don’t lump me in with you. While you play chauffeur, I still serve the Crown as Countess.”

“Dad gave you a piece of the restaurant and a seat on the city council which you didn't use until half the city was destroyed. Some Countess.”

“When that happened, I stepped up. But you’re just checking out.” Jazzy put a plate of cheesecake down in front of him. “Enjoy your dessert.”

Cloud twisted his lips as Jazzy walked away. My dessert. She ruined my favorite dessert. She didn't even touch it! Witchcraft! He pulled out his napkin, wiped his mouth, and placed it over the dead cheesecake.

By the time his mind caught up to his body, he was already doing push-ups in his upstairs apartment. After the two hundredth, he lost count and started over. A million different responses to Jazzy ran through his mind, and they all sucked. Even after he finished a storm shower, he didn't feel clean. He just flopped into bed and wallowed.

The orange sunset filtered into his bedroom, illuminating little dust motes in its beams. His alarm clock ticked away the time, and the sun settled down on his dresser and mirror, and the award display on top of it.

“Yeah, that's about right.” He dove into his closet, grabbed his largest saddlebags, and started stuffing them with the gear he’d need.

“What are you doing making all this noise?”

Cloud turned to Jazzy, shirt still in mouth. After he stuffed it into his bag, he said, “You were right. The title of Countess does suit you. Certainly more than Count ever could me. There’s only one title that ever fit me: Guard.”

Jazzy raised an eyebrow. “Surely you’re not thinking of going back. It's not like there’s a place for you anymore. It was probably filled before you even left.”

“You’re probably right. But, I still have a standing job offer in Canterlot. She may not be a princess, but I’d sooner follow her into the gates of Tartarus than take one more piece of abuse from you.

“You can tell Dad that I don't care if he gives you my share of the restaurant. Or even the whole damned estate. It's not worth it.”

Whatever Jazzy said to him in response, it never made it to his mind. His shoulder bumped into her on the way out, and before he knew it, he was standing at the entrance of the restaurant.

Cloud took in a breath. “Am I really going to do this?” The wind blew through his mane, and he looked back at the restaurant. He saw the vines on the cloud walls, the bottles of wine in the window, and the happy customers inside. Most of all, though, he saw Jazzy, and his wings told him what he needed to do.

The wind caught him by the feathers, and he was gone. He had his bag, a destination, and hours to go before he’d be home.

“So, this is it?”

Twilight held up the paper to the entryway, scanning the lettering on the wall written in arcane runes only visible in her sight, or with a special light filter. “‘You shouldn't be here.’ Yup, I’m pretty sure this is the place. Question is, what now? Knock?”

Twilight squinted at the little corridor, lit by a red emergency light. It couldn't have been more than six meters long, and was otherwise perfectly unassuming and made of the same stone brick as the rest of the tunnel.

She stepped to the runes, and put her hoof on the word “here,” pushing it into the wall. The same sounds as in the dump echoed through the tunnel, and a door appeared at the end of the little corridor.

“How’d you do that?” Trixie asked?

Twilight shrugged. “Just came to me, really. Come on, let’s do this.”

They stepped through the door, leading to a rather anticlimactic additional six meters of corridor.

Twilight smacked her lips. “Welp, that's all I had. Any thoughts?”


They spun around, finding the door sealed shut. If one hadn't already seen it, there would have been no way to tell that it had even been there. Red runes pulsed in the room, scanning around them as a voice echoed in their minds.

“Unidentified intruders, if you want to live, speak the password.

Twilight cleared her throat. “I’m the Grand Mage. Open up if you want to live.”

There was a beat.

The runes stopped and died, and another door, this one ahead of them, opened. On the other side, four members of the Night Guard were pointing heavy mounted cannons at them.

“Holy crap!” Arcane Edge’s butt hit the floor while the others breathed a sigh of relief. “It really is her! Lady Sparkle, that is one of the ballsiest things I’ve ever seen!”

"Well, I saw a little piece of the runes that carved out an exception. Luna must have had that in mind for me." Twilight half smiled. "But Trixie would have been dead for sure. Had you allowed that, I would have been... upset."

Trixie coughed. "Um, what was that?"

"Relax, Trixie, I wouldn't have let that happen. But, now that we're here, we need your help. I uncovered a magic circle with symbols even I'm not familiar with. I need Luna's help in figuring it out. Are you able to contact her?"

The other ponies left to go back to work, while Arcane winced and rubbed the back of his head. "Not really. She swings by every few hours if she possibly can, but we don't have a telegraph here yet. But you're welcome to come in and wait for her!"

"Thanks!" Twilight went inside as Arcane stepped out of the way, with Trixie close behind her. "Kinda stinky out there."

Trixie ripped off her gas mask, and sucked in a fresh breath. "Empty night! I am glad to be out of there! Why is that the entrance?"

"Well, this place is secret even from Celestia, so we had to take precautions. Even if they are paranoid."

Twilight looked around as Aurora undeployed. They were in a warehouse, but the skylight overhead swirled with a barrier that blocked outside light. The ground was bare concrete, but impeccably clean.  There was a smattering of tables around, most with weapons, others with papers. In the center was a boxing ring, and across the room from Twilight were a few doors and a staircase to a second floor.

"Huh." Trixie pulled off her saddlebags and stretched out like a cat. “I kind of thought a secret base run by the Princess of the Night would be... grander?"

"Eh." Arcane opened up a large hoof locker for their things. "It still works. Remember, this is a black site. Strictly off record and off the books. We don't have normal government funding. Everything here is on a shoestring budget, save for our concealment efforts, most of which were made by Luna herself."

Trixie popped her shoulder joint. "And just what do you do here?"

"Can't tell you. Luna needs to give me specific permission for that. What I can tell you is that the Sovereign authorized and instructed us to render whatever aid you require. So, how can I help?"

Twilight opened her mouth, but her stomach spoke first and rumbled the concrete under them.

Arcane chuckled. "Sandwiches it is. Hey, Moon Petal, food run!"

The slender thestral mare licked her fangs. "Roan or hinterlands?"

"Hinterlands. Extra mustard on mine."

"Back in fifteen, unless there's still a line." She flapped her wings and zipped to Arcane, embracing him in a hug and nuzzle. “Cuddle toll!”

“Ack!” Arcane struggled like a worm in a bird’s mouth. “Get off!”

“Boo. You're no fun.” She stuck out her tongue and took off, zipping through a little hole in the floor.

"High speed pegasus access." Arcane said, straightening his mane. "Takes a while for the rest of us to get here, but with wings you can take that tube in just a couple minutes. Let's hope she doesn't find too much of a line."

Trixie's stomach joined in the hunger parade. "A line at this time of night?"

“Yup!” Arcane walked over to the weapons table. “Manehatten: the city that never sleeps. Best food in the world, from all over the world, and half of it is available twenty-four seven. Being the holiday, even more should be open.

“But I know you're not just here for a meal. So other than sandwiches, how can I help?”

Twilight pulled out her notebook and showed him a transcription of the magic circle that she found on the hotel roof. “Do you recognize these symbols?”

Arcane took it in his magic, his stare hardening as he continued looking at the paper. Eventually his right eye bulged in surprise. “Wow… No, I don't. That hasn't happened to me in years. Where did you see this?”

“On the roof of the Bee’s Wick Hotel. I'm worried about what it does, and if there's more of them. This one was hidden beneath the roof tile and a layer of murkyr.”

Arcane whistled. “Somepony didn't want you, or anypony, to find this.”

“Somepony, or some organization.” Twilight folded her forelegs. “What's worse, it was inscribed in changeling blood.”

A hush draped over the warehouse as all half dozen or so Night Guard froze in place. Arcane Edge broke into a sweat, and the air gained the pressure of the sea.

“Empty night…” Arcane cursed under his breath. “What do the changelings have to do with this? Do they know? Did they do it, or do they want to stage a counter-attack on the city, or whoever did this?”

“All questions I want to answer.” Twilight took her notebook back. “But the best way to do that is to figure out what this circle does without calling undue attention by destroying it.”

“Understood.” Arcane dropped into a bow. “Best to wait for Moon Petal to return. She's our… expert on changelings.

“There is a rest area in the back. I'd imagine it would be a more comfortable place to wait for the Sovereign. Feel free to help yourself to the snacks there.”

“Much appreciated, Acolyte.” Twilight bowed back. “Come on, Trixie. My hooves could use a rest.”

The back room was dingy with a pair of couches that were probably salvaged from the trash and cleaned, and the table was a literal bunch of two-by-fours glued together. The flickering fluorescent light was threatening to give Twilight a headache, and the available coffee was terrible.

The sandwiches were heaven on Equestria. Twilight’s mouth was still watering fifteen minutes after finishing it, and she was sure Trixie felt the same. Food having been eaten, they both called for Moon Petal to ask her some questions.

Moon Petal was a playful-looking thestral, slender and medium height. Her short red mane was reminiscent of Bloodmoon’s, but in a shaggy pixie cut. “What's up?”

Twilight pulled out her notes. “Arcane Edge said you were the Night Guard’s expert on changelings. I was wondering if we could pick your brain on the hive mind.”

Moon Petal blushed a deep violet. “Uh, sensitive topic, but yeah. They didn't tell you?”

Twilight's eyes lit up. “Oh, were you taken by them at some point?”

“You could say that.” Petal put her hoof to the gem on her chestplate, and gave it a twist. A purple flame whooshed around her, collapsing as fast as it formed. Where once was a thestral now stood a purple-tinted changeling.

Twilight and Trixie both jumped onto the couch. “You're a changeling?!”

Petal pointed to her head, and the stub that was there in place of a horn. “Luna… She…” Petal took a deep breath and started again. “I was born into the hive, and Chrysalis had me fight the Sovereign to distract her while we evacuated a hive in the borderlands. She moved so fast, I didn't see it happen. One moment I was connected to the hive, and the next, my horn was cut off. I nearly died, alone, empty.

“Luna brought me to the castle. Captured to interrogate. But without my horn, I couldn't hear Chrysalis in my mind anymore. I had to make decisions on my own. When I didn't cooperate, your brother was about to execute me. The hatred in his eyes... I was so scared.

“That's when the Sovereign intervened. She saved me, offered me a place. Obsidian still doesn't really trust me, I know that much. But the others? They taught me to be myself. To become something that was a self. I owe her my life twice over, so I tell her what I know about the hive.”

Twilight swallowed, and leaned against Trixie as they both calmed and eventually sat back down.

“Wow.” Twilight wondered how six cups of coffee found a way to inject their caffeine into her veins. “I— I didn't know! Why didn't anypony tell me?”

Petal turned her armor’s disguise back on, and the thestral was back. “I think only six or seven ponies outside of the Night Guard know. I made them promise not to tell anypony without my permission. It's… Not a lot of ponies are very understanding about this. The new Captain of the Royal Guard wanted to kill me just like the old one.”

“Whew. Wow.” Twilight shivered inside her armor. “I'm so sorry. I never expected... If you don't want to answer the questions, I can skip this and just talk to Luna.”

“It's fine.” Moon Petal scooted to right to get to the water cooler. How they got the water delivered was a mystery for the ages, but that apparently didn't stop Moon Petal from pouring herself a cup without thinking about it. “Part of the deal is telling ponies what I know, so you can ask.

“Before you do, though, you should know something. I don't know everything. When you're in the hive, memory doesn't work like it does with ponies. Short term memory does, and we get to keep a chunk of our personal memories, but long term? It's like they're all part of an ocean sloshing and swirling around the different minds in the hive, and bits of them are filtered out until only the ‘necessary’ parts remain and are accessible to the whole hive, and even then, not all memories are in the minds of all the changelings all the time.

“Basically, I'll do my best, but there are gaps. ‘K?”

“Understood.” Twilight boggled her mind for a moment, then showed Moon Petal the page. “Do you recognize these symbols?”

Moon Petal tilted her head. “Uuuhhhh, nope. What are they?”

“I was hoping you could tell me. I found it on the roof of a building, made out of dried changeling blood.”

Moon froze and dropped her jaw, then looked like she was trying to hold down a lunch.

Can changelings even eat? Twilight put down her ears. “Sorry, I know this must be disturbing.”

“Understatement of the year. Who would do that? I've never heard of changelings doing that.”

Twilight put the page away. “Knowing that actually does help, as it narrows the possibilities a lot. No more questions for now; you can go for a fly to clear your mind. I know this was unsettling, but thank you for answering me.”

“Yeah, sure, don't mention it.” Moon Petal stumbled to her legs. “I'm… I'm going to go and try to get my head back on straight.”

Twilight waited for her to leave, then gave Trixie a copy of the circle to try and puzzle out with her, though they both sat in unproductive silence.

With a sigh, Twilight closed her eyes and laid out the information in her mind, possibility after possibility jockeying and fighting for prevalence in answering what the circle was and what they should do about it. Her thoughts drifted from point to point, each little mental tussle somehow relaxing her more than riling her up.


At least, that was true until she felt a poke on her shoulder. Light poured over her poor, aching retina as her eyelids cracked open to find Luna staring at her. “Princess?”

“You said you needed to see me?”

“Oh, right. That.” A yawn took over control of her mouth, forcing it open by crowbar. “I must have drifted off. I need to ask you about what's in my notes.”

She grabbed her notebook, found the page, and showed Luna while Trixie snored away. “It was inscribed in changeling blood, of all things.”

Luna turned it sideways and squinted. She opened her mouth as if to speak, then glared at it while turning it different orientations. “Incredible. Twilight, I have no idea what to tell you. ‘Tis as foreign to me as anything I've ever seen in magic. Where did you say you found it?”

A few of Twilight's neuroses ran around screaming from not even Luna recognizing her problem, but the others all tackled them and held them down - for now. “On the roof of the Bee’s Wick Hotel, under roof tile and a thin layer of murkyr. Can you help?”

“Certainly. Come, let us investigate together. This is serious enough to warrant my direct attention.” Luna lifted her horn, and a couple flashes later, they were in the air over Manehatten, on a small cloud. “So many buildings in this city. Where is what we are looking for?”

Twilight peeked out from the cloud and fought back against the buildings trying to be all wobbly to make her dizzy. “Over there, near that park.”

“I see it. Hold on.” One more flash, and they were back on the roof, next to the magic circle. “Stars, you were serious about the blood. What would be the purpose of that?”

“I haven't the faintest idea.” Twilight poked it with a hoof. A gentle thrum went through her, but did nothing else. “It's active, that's for sure, but whatever it's doing has to be subtle to not set off my other senses. But if I break it, it might explode, and that's not something I want to see happen in the middle of Manehatten.”

“Understandable…” Luna scratched her chin, peering into the depths of the circle and her thoughts. “My question is, if they went to such trouble to hide this little bauble, do we want it to keep doing what it's doing?”

A shiver played Twilight's spine like a xylophone. “Probably not, but the crystallized blood is likely delicate. I don't know how to remove it without causing damage.”

“We cannot. But we can minimize the damage. We shall pull it up all at once by cutting into the roof with a barrier, and lifting the cut segment up. Then we will put it behind an extra thick shield and allow it to explode. In the best-case scenario, we'll just be looking at a bit of roof damage.”

Twilight put her ears back. “Um, the best-case scenario doesn't usually pan out in my adventures.”

The Princess stood up straight and tall, towering like the alicorn she was. “If my plan fails, I shall accept full responsibility. But I cannot allow this unknown magic to keep functioning in my city. Stand back. I shall lift it up, and we shall both apply the shield.”

Twilight bowed, then scampered backwards while her heart started thumping her sternum about how bad an idea this was. “Understood. I'll deploy Aurora, just in case.”

“A sensible precaution. Hold fast to your senses, I don't know what will happen, exactly.” Luna's horn burst into a small star, bathing the roof in light and turning night into day.

Aurora grabbed tight to Twilight, deploying over every inch of her partner.

A hard light barrier formed over the top of the circle, followed by another magic circle much larger than the one formed in blood. Light cut through the roof tiles, slicing through the grout and ceramic as if it was a graham cracker. Inch by inch, Luna lifted the piece of roof and the circle up off the structure.

“Shields,” Luna said.

The two put layer after layer around the circle, eventually adding enough of a barrier to withstand a medium-sized military warhead. The spheres shimmered, and began to shrink. What was the size of a beach ball was soon the size of watermelon, then a cantaloupe.

A pop hit Twilight's ears, and the light overtook the rooftop. In her mind, it was as if a bell the size of a skyscraper descended over them and rang. Her ears were boxed by minotaurs, and her whole body vibrated with the bell. When the light faded, her head was ready to split open.

Luna's wobbly legs said that the Princess was affected the same way as she.

“What was that?” Twilight whispered.

“Quit yelling,” Luna must have screamed back. “Either we just got hit with a psychic shockwave, or I have a hangover to shame all previous hangovers.”

“Did anypony else get hit?” Twilight stumbled over to the edge of the tower, and flopped on her belly to look over. Ponies were stumbling around on the ground, which could only mean one thing. “Luna? Luna, we need to get out of here!”

“I know, I know, put away the megaphone! Here, let me just…” Luna hobbled her way over, then lit her horn with a shower of sparks.

Four or five teleports later, and the concrete floor of Luna's warehouse punched Twilight square on the top of her head.

Ow.” Twilight went to rub the bump on her noggin, and realized she was upside down. Rolling over, she grumbled and wished she had a painkiller pill the size of a chariot. “There are so many words I could use to describe that. I'm going to stick with ow.

“Moon Petal!” Luna cried out. “Did you feel that, too?”

“Uuuhhhh…” The pegasus landed next to them. “I got some bad tinnitus a moment ago. What happened?”

The ponies there all crowded around them to help the Princess up, while Trixie rushed to Twilight's side.

“We blew up the magic circle.” Twilight coughed out. “Got hit with a psychic shockwave. Wow that hurt.”

Trixie put a hoof to Twilight's chin and turned her head to examine it. “You already look like hell. What happened? Didn't you put a shield on it?”

Luna leaned on Arcane Edge. “Most barriers, shields, and armor are totally ineffective against psychic effects. There are exceptions, but I didn't think to try any. In fact, I doubt I have any that would have been worthwhile. I haven't seen psychic power like that since long before the Chaos War.”

Twilight racked her brain, sorting her thoughts while getting whipped with the lingering psionic flail. “I can think of only two reasons that circle would exist and hold that much energy. Scenario one: The circle is there to limit the ability of the changelings to communicate with their hive mind. In which case, we just did them a huge favour.

“Scenario two: the circle is there to improve the ability of the changelings to communicate with the hive mind. In which case, we just hurt them.”

“Hmmm.” Moon Petal rubbed her chin. “I seriously doubt the latter. Chrysalis always has an ear in our heads and strings on our hearts and minds. But the former? I've never heard of something that can block out the hive mind. The amount of energy it would take would be unimaginable.”

Twilight stood, finally shaking free of the ringing her ear. “Then it's the former, and there may be more of those circles to make the spell more effective. Question is, who put them there?”

Moon Petal shrugged. “No idea. But if they've just been sitting here, then the hive doesn't know about them. Chrysalis wouldn't stand for it.”

Twilight squeezed her temples and winced. “I need some aspirin, and a rest. Luna, can you take us home to Canterlot? I want to check on Dash and get to bed.”

“Yes, but…” Luna shook her wings. “Give Us a moment. Our head is still spinning.”

Twilight had to stop herself from raiding the pharmaceutical cabinet to find something for her headache. She technically could get away with it, but she could just see the look Celestia would give her. Instead, she found her way back to Rainbow's room. She lifted up a hoof to knock, and —

“Come in!”

Twilight blinked at Rainbow’s voice. It was bright and alert, but there was still something off.

“Aw heck, I did it again, didn't I?”

Twilight pushed open the door and poked her head in the room. “Hey, Rainbow. Are you okay?”

Rainbow’s coat was poofed out in frustration, and her feathers were a mess. The bandage on her head was fresh, and glowing with restorative magic. Her face, though, was deflated from frustration. “Hey Twilight. Looks like I lived, huh?”

Spike pulled open the door and let her in, then closed it behind her. “Don't sound so happy, Rainbow.”

Twilight jumped to the bed and pulled Rainbow into a gentle hug. “You're too stubborn to die that easy. But words can't express how relieved I am.” She sucked in a breath and shivered as she let it go. “You'll be okay. The Princess will see to it.”

“I know. I just wish this didn't happen. Bastard Farriér or his goons must have hit me in the head while I was out.”

Twilight broke the hug and fluffed Rainbow’s pillow. “Well, we—”

“Yeah, but the Majestics are still out there. And they're worse. They employed him,” Rainbow said.

Twilight looked over to Spike, who shrugged and sighed.

“Damn it!” Rainbow whacked herself with her pillow and covered her head with it. “I can't stop it!”

“Uuuhhhh…” Twilight murmured. “Do I want to know?”

“Yes,” Spike said, standing up.”Rainbow's been jumping around through time. Like, she'll go a few seconds into the future, then without realizing it, snap back.”

Rainbow groaned. “It's like, every so often, I jump  a few seconds. And if I don't see a big change around me, I don't know I've done it.”

Twilight bit her hoof. “Celestia did say there would be side effects, but I never expected this. We could use this to our advantage, though.”

“I know, right?!” Rainbow flopped on her back. “But so far all I've done is make conversations awkward. Sometimes I wind up skipping whole sentences. I mean, I say them, but then it gets wiped out when I skip back in— No idea how I'm going to fly like this.”

Twilight blinked. “Well, have you asked Celestia about it?”

Spike yawned. “Yeah. She said it'll probably go away with time.”

“Pfft,” Rainbow scoffed. “Probably. Might be stuck with this forever. Going to have to get used to this, find a way to tell when I jump, how far back I go.”

Twilight gave her another hug. “We'll find a way to work it out. For now, just follow the doctor’s instructions so you can get back on duty. I miss having my captain available, even if Trixie's done very well so far.

“Tomorrow I'm heading back to Manehatten. There's something odd going on, and I've not gotten to the bottom of it yet. I'll get some rest and tackle it in the first thing in the morning.”

Rainbow grumbled. “Well, good luck. I'd come with, but…”

“You just had your head cut open, yeah. Don't worry about it. Spike, you stay here with Rainbow, help her get better. Pinkie is on her way by train, so expect her sooner rather than later. If I don't have this solved by tomorrow, I'll drag you out there and see what changelings think of dragon flame.”