Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Book One - Prologue: The Shadows That Keep

“Hey, boss, isn’t it—?”

The toll of the town’s clock tower interrupted Swordrunner’s subordinate, each chime causing a slight twitch in his eyebrow. “Nine o’clock.”  He held himself still, laying in the alleyway behind a confectioner’s that smelled of sugar so strongly he could feel the cavities form in his teeth.

“Think he got lost? Our maps are out of date. The town’s much bigger than we thought.”

“It’s not that big. I don’t like this.”

A snort barely muffled itself inside Swordrunner’s nose. They were right, of course, but their words were laughably late. The question isn’t whether or not he’s caught. The question is: who gave us up to whom? He pulled out the picture of their target, the paper soaked in sweat from the hot summer day. The image and the biographical data had already been burned into the back of his mind: short unicorn mare, purple coat, dark flat mane with purple stripe, starburst cutie mark. Just below the image, the name was spelled out in bold: Twilight Sparkle. Even heroes can have enemies, eh, little miss?

A hushed shuffle sounded from around the corner behind him, and his team swung around to point their blades at an alley cat rustling through garbage.

Amateurs. They’re scared stiff. He grunted and lifted himself off the ground, looking one last time at the picture in his telekinesis. “Twenty-five million isn’t worth this.”


He turned around to his team. “Get ready, all of you. We’re leaving. Don’t leave anything on the ground, no alley dust or garbage smear on your armor. No physical evidence.”

One of the earth ponies next to him raised an eyebrow. “Why the extra effort?”

Swordrunner curled his lip. “You think she’s being protected by a bunch of San Palomino thugs? The Royal Guard gets wind of this and they’ll comb over every inch and every lead to hunt us down and turn us into statues. Get that dirt off your breastplate, now!”

The small group started picking up anything left on the ground and cleaning themselves off, Swordrunner included. Every nook and cranny of his armor was washed over with his magic, picking up the most minute traces and removing them, even in the large gem core that gave him his shield.

It wasn’t until he progressed to his boots that he’d realized that none of his “comrades” were moving. Instead, they are all staring at him, or rather, something behind him.

Silver-colored steel swung through the air like the scythe of death itself. Arcs of magic and fire ripped the town’s quiet asunder as Swordrunner’s blade raced to his enemy. All the might and fury he could bring to the ambush behind him, though, was hushed like an infant as he struck a barrier that may as well have been a mountain.

There, before him, stood the Princess of the Night herself, as tall as Celestia and as black as the void. This was not the Luna in the newspapers that ridiculed her or her sister’s weakness. It was something more, something stronger, older, and vastly more terrifying.

He furrowed his brow and took a step back.

Panicked, stomping, galloping hooves exploded in a frenzy behind them as his team ran for their very lives.

Swordrunner rolled his eyes. “Idiots.”

As certain as the cycle of day and night, several muffled, blunt impacts reached his ears as they rounded the corner.

He spread out his hind legs into a defensive position and backed away from the alicorn, never once letting her leave his sight. “That was just to scare them into the trap, wasn’t it? Maybe it’s true, then. About you alicorns being weaker than you look.”

The Nightmare smiled and spread her wings. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Trap or no, I am more than a match for a foal such as yourself. Still, it would appear there is some, tiny, infinitesimal iota of wisdom and experience in you. I am… happy that you stayed. It will give us a chance to talk.”

Swordrunner swallowed. There was something there, something about her voice. He couldn’t put a hoof on it, but it still sent a chill down his sweat-drenched spine. “Definitely not an awkward little princess… I didn’t realize the Nightmare was back.”

The laughter from the alicorn sent thunder and lightning crackling through the sky, and her smile felt like it had frozen the alleyway better than any blizzard could ever hope. “Oh, who said I ever left? Not that it matters what title you give me; I’ve acquired so many these past millennia. No, what matters right now is: You’ve been offered a reward to harm somepony dear to me, and I intend to find out who’s behind it.”

Swordrunner’s eyes went wide. We weren’t sold out to the Royal Guard! We were sold out to the Night Guard! He turned slowly, blade at the ready as he checked behind him.

There was no alley. There was no town or sky. Behind him was a lone dumpster and the corner of the bakery, and behind that, there was naught but darkness.

“Now then,” Nightmare said, one corner of her mouth stretching into a smile. “Come, tell me who is paying you to hurt my Twilight.”

Damn, can’t fight her, can’t run, what am I—? Ice and pain shot up his hind leg, and he slashed behind him, cutting a tendril of a shadow creeping up his fetlock. Still the blackness advanced, reaching up, clawing, grabbing at him as he slashed and retreated from something that wasn’t there, that couldn’t be there.

His flank ran into something.

He turned around.

There was the Alicorn of the Night, ethereal mane whipping around him like a hurricane and stretching out into the infinite void.

“You, my little pony…”

Her icy, piercing eyes stared through him, a current of power and grace washing past his mental defenses like a tide. There was nothing but those eyes…

“You are going to tell me everything.”

His sword dropped from his grasp, falling into nothingness.

Stars… Stars! They’re so… beautiful…