Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

The Back & Forth

Trixie sank like a stone into the deep, soft seats of Duchess Demesne’s chariot. Almost immediately, she was about to either drift off to sleep or just daydream due to  the sheer comfort of what was under her rump. Keep your head, GP! she admonished herself.

The inside was appointed well enough to be fit for a Princess—aside from the ceiling being too low for Her Highness to fit. The chariot was adorned with plush black cloth and real polished mahogany accents, and it had champagne chilled in an enchanted permafrost bucket, a sunroof, and even a bowl of molasses candies that Trixie totally didn't immediately avail herself of.

The stallions sat across from them, and with enough space between to have a large kitchen table set up if they'd wanted it. The one who spoke earlier still had a bit of a smile, which seemed to be hiding some relief. The other one was stone grey, garbed in a tan suit and wearing sunglasses, and may as well have been carved out of granite for how stiff he was.

Not to mention those muscles. I may not be into guys, but I can still appreciate the kind of work it takes for even an earth pony to basically be a mound of strength.

“So,” Twilight began as the chariot took off into the sky. “What urgent matter does the Duchess want to discuss?”

Mr. Clock shook his head. “I am not privileged enough to know, Lady Sparkle. It is not my job to ask questions, but to obey.

“However, I am also not a complete idiot. Given what's been in the papers and what has been discussed in the office lately, I'd imagine it's the changelings you've been chasing up and down Manehatten. You have this city worried, and let me tell you, ponies in this city don't worry easily.”

Twilight nodded slightly. “That's fair. I aim to keep everypony safe, though, so with any luck, I should be able to alleviate those worries. Moreover, I have every confidence in this city's resilience. It will take more than a few changelings to rattle it.”

Mr. Clock bowed his head. “On that, I agree.

“Ah, look, we've arrived.”

The chariot pulled up to the Empyreal building, a giant gold skyscraper that was a testament to not only the prosperity of the city, but the skill of its engineers. The arches at the top were engraved with images of the Princesses, though one had to be close to tell. Had this been night, it would have been lit with purple to honour Princess Luna. In the sun, though, all one could see was gold-tinted stone.

They weren’t at the very top of the structure, as it would have been silly to pull up to a dome with nowhere to stand. Rather, they were at the base of the dome at the top of the building, where a small landing area jutted out from the edge to service priority chariots.

As Trixie exited after the others, she took in the somewhat chilled air and listened to the sound of tiny fountains sloshing their water about. Potted plants and small patches of impeccably-manicured grass were strewn about in a symmetrical enough fashion to keep anypony's OCD from going off. The landing pad felt more like a luxurious garden than anything else.

Inside was the starkest possible contrast with San Palomino. Air conditioning was there to greet them with a kiss of ice on her nose. The walls were painted a warm off-white that put the idea of gold in her head without actually being gold. The carpet was likely clean enough to perform operations on, and each light fixture was ornate wood and glass.

The elevator was hushed into library silence and silken movement, and the reception area it opened into was furnished with plush couches and a secretary’s desk made of deep mohagany with a subtle gold trim only visible from the correct angle.

“Memoranda?” Demesne stopped just before entering her office. “Could you be a dear and get us some coffee?”

The secretary pony bowed her head. “Of course, Your Majesty.”

Trixie kept her eyes on Twilight, stopping when she came to a stop. She noticed the Grand Mage’s ear flutter and a tiny glow in the runes of her torc. It faded after a moment, and she followed the Duchess into her office.

“Trixie, I need you to stay out here for a bit. I'll call you if I need you.”

“Um, sure, if that's what you want.” Trixie looked over to the couch and an end table with a donut box. “Can I—”

“Clean her out if you want.” Twilight winked before closing the doors behind her.

I hope you know what you're doing, Twilight. Trixie plopped her rump on the couch and proceeded to decrease the Duchy's official donut supply.

Twilight sat back in the guest chair, wondering if she should have stolen a few of those donuts herself. There was, however, business to attend to. “So, Duchess, how may I help you? Certainly you didn't send out a search party to offer me coffee.”

“No, I didn't,” said Demesne. “Tell me, when do you plan on leaving Manehatten?”

“When I'm done with my mission. Is that a problem?”

“Frankly, yes.” Demesne took a sip of her coffee. “I've noticed a concerning pattern, Lady Sparkle. Wherever you go, upheaval follows. Sometimes you bring cleansing fire in your wake, and other times, you just bring fire. You're even worse than the Princesses, and I have a duty to protect this duchy. So, I called you here to ask of you this: Go. Home. Leave the changelings to me.”

“Allow me to answer that with a question: how long have you known the changelings had infiltrated your city?”

“Six months. I was trying to keep it quiet to avoid a panic among the populace, but thanks to your bungling methods, I fear mass protests are inevitable.”

“Okay, first of all: if you knew you should have reported it to the—.”

“And have those gasbags leak the issue immediately? Please. Canterlot is a sieve, and information flows like water, if not from the Crown itself, then from other dukes who would love to break that story wide open.”

“Whether that's true or not is immaterial. The law and Compact mandate this cooperation, Duchess. You are duty bound to inform us.”

“Forgive me if I put my duty to my duchy over a duty to an ineffective Crown.”

“Really? You know, I seem to remember the previous renegotiations of the Compact being little more than the Council doing their best to hobble the Crown at every opportunity so they could take power for themselves. Your argument is specious, Duchess. You don't get to take a carpenter’s tools and then complain when their work isn't up to snuff.”

Demesne huffed. “How things were in the past isn't of much use now. The fact of the matter is that preventing panic is critically important, and your efforts have undermined that. If you really want to help, tell the press that you're done with your mission and will be leaving immediately.”

“No. The only reason I'm here is because you kept this information from the Crown, Duchess. When we saw the pattern we came to the conclusion that it could be only one of two possibilities. One was that you were unaware and needed help. The other was that you were unlawfully withholding this military-grade intelligence. I see that the latter was correct.

“Had you been forthright, odds are the Princess would have only sent me if the situation was dire. Even then, in such a situation, I would have integrated my approach with the Manehatten PD. Instead, when I discovered what was happening, I came of my own volition to take on a potentially city-sized infestation with nothing but what I could carry and a single member of the Evening Guard.

“Complain all you like, but this situation is entirely of your own making.”

“No, this is still largely on you,” Demesne countered. “You came here to investigate my city, my Duchy, and didn't even come by for coffee until now. Lady Sparkle, had you sought me out and asked me, I would have been happy to clear my calendar and give you my undivided attention.

“But I see that the Princess has rubbed off on you too much.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Twilight asked.

“Attempting to solve these issues on your own when it's better done through cooperation and trust, and in the process leaving a trail of ash and destruction in your wake. When called out, you blame others for not being in on the know when you've made no effort to include them.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “How am I supposed to include the ponies who are quite literally trying to kill me? I don't know if you've noticed, Duchess, but one of your number was caught literally being a traitor, and another?  Mind controlled into it. I have every reason to be guarded. “

“We're up against a geas, Lady Sparkle. You can either get paranoid for the rest of this, and trust no one while you slink into a hole like Celestia, or you can reach out and gain the strength of others.

“And, quite frankly, Artfeather was corrupt for ages and the Crown begrudgingly accepted it in favour of stability. It was only her idiot husband that destroyed the city. Even in her treason, Artfeather never would have been so insane.

“As for Badlands, he's a moron. I'm not surprised he was sucked in. I'm only surprised that he didn't literally have strings attached to his legs leading to every corporation and con man within a thousand miles of a desert. The Princess knew this as well. She didn't move against him until he was ready for a hard fall, and she used you as the instrument of that fall.

“She's playing by her own rules, Lady Sparkle. We're just game pieces to her. Ones that disappear over time, to be replaced by others who will also disappear. An immortal in a match against opponents who have to hand off their games when they inevitably wither away.

“But when she takes a piece, ponies die, cities crumble, eras change. She doesn't like to call herself a goddess, but she is one in all but name, and if we don't keep her at bay, it endangers all of Equestria.”

“Now that I don't buy at all.” Twilight folded her forelegs. “I know the Princess. She helped raise me. She genuinely cares for ponies. I know this because I've felt her love, and it's warm and kind and nurturing.”

“You know the mask, Sparkle,” Demesne countered. “The avatar she uses to interact with us. But her true self sees us all as blurs, as blips in time. A mess of little lights she just wants to put in place to make her painting. But I and the rest of the actually competent members of the Council know one hard truth: life doesn't let you do that.

“Life, Sparkle, is messy and chaotic. It will never be the paradise the Sisters want. If we are to make the world a better place, it will be up to ourselves to do it together, on our own.

“More importantly, we need to establish an order that removes the Princesses from control.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Careful, Duchess. You're treading dangerously close to treason with this talk.”

“It's not treason to discuss where the Compact should go next, Lady Sparkle, especially for Council members. Princess Celestia herself made that ruling. Look up Crown v. Barnyard. Besides, I'm saying that absolute control should be removed, not that they should lose their crowns. There's a difference.

“I'm not stupid enough to think it wise to try to completely depose a goddess. Besides, we need them to move the sun and moon, and there are plenty of ponies that revere them. That's fine. I've no problem with them getting to be symbols and living in a palace with nice things and servants. I would encourage it, in fact, as not allowing it could lead to Armageddon.

Demesne poured another cup of coffee and stirred in some cream. “But therein lies the problem.”

Twilight put an ear down. “I don't entirely follow. You say it's a problem, when in the previous breath you said you encourage the Princesses to be princesses.”

“The problem is their tight hold on control, their need for it. Not just that, but for love, adoration, validation, all while holding absolute power.

“A decade and a half ago, an immortal goddess returned to us with hurt feelings and immediately tried to murder us all. Had you not stopped her, we’d all be dead right now.

“Then, because she's immortal and more powerful than all of us put together, we have to accept her as being cured and a new, secondary ruler. One we know full well has a history of trying to end the world when she gets depressed.”

“That's not—”

“It is the truth, Lady Sparkle, and it extends to Celestia herself. When she is angry, she can't help but set fire to everything around her. Did you know that Council regulations mandate that all our equipment, tables, and chairs have to be fire resistant? Or that Celestia herself ordered that firefighters be always on standby near the Empyreal Hall, just in case?

“We're at the mercy of gods with the emotional stability of teenagers, whose feelings disrupt the environment around them. My goal, as is the goal of most of the Council, is to disconnect the Princesses from ruling, not just because it is the right thing to do to let us mortals choose our course, but to relieve them of the stresses of being rulers. Once they are free of that ability, of that responsibility, they can go about doing whatever else.

“Princess Luna can dive headfirst into her painting, her music, even messing around with the stars for all I care. Princess Celestia can be a teacher full time, or eat a mountain of cakes. But they cannot be allowed to keep us at their mercy.”

If Twilight raised her eyebrow any more it was pop off her head and hit the ceiling. “You know the Princesses aren't that stupid, right? They know what you are doing.”

“Considering the fact that we cannot move the sky without them, nor can we hope to stand up to them by force, we have little other recourse. Besides, if all ponies, or at least enough ponies, all demand freedom, the Sisters will be left with but one choice to make: acquiesce, or be left with nopony to rule anyway.”

“And yet, without them we would be nothing,” Twilight countered. “We beat Discord with the Elements of Harmony, but what of the Titans? And don’t forget that we lost the Elements in the coup attempt and that they still haven’t been recovered yet. What do we do if another mythic-level threat emerges? Luna is our only hope at this rate.

“And what of that immortality? Thousands of years of experience and knowledge! What madness would we have to have to not take advantage of that?

“Not to mention Princess Celestia's track record. Over a thousand years of managing the sun and moon without fail.”

“Certainly they have useful perspectives, Lady Sparkle, but that's no reason to dominate us mortals. One of the purposes of government is to protect the weak against exploitation from the strong. And, quite frankly, I can think of no extremes that rival the gulf in power between an average pony and an alicorn.

“That's one of the reasons the Compact exists. It doesn't just outline the sharing of power between the Crown and the nobility, it outlines what neither has the legal power to do. An example is the freedom of speech and worship. It protects the commoners and nobility from Celestia, and the commoners from nobility.

“But that protection is woefully incomplete. Power must shift to the Council, if not for the freedom of mortals, then to relieve Celestia from the sheer organizational nightmare that is running such as large country as a powerful monarch.”

Twilight’s mind flashed back, and she was under her mentor's wing, looking over the ruins at the heart of the Everfree Forest. It all just burns. “If there's one thing I can agree with you on, Duchess, it's that Celestia does have too much of a workload. Perhaps it's time to allow Luna more responsibility?”

“I see what you're doing there, although you certainly expected as much. But no, I am not ready to give such power to a goddess that nearly destroyed us all, even if she was supposedly cleansed by the Elements of Harmony. And even if I was ready, I rather doubt she would be useful in such an area. She has little patience for protocol.”

Twilight opened her mouth, then paused as her comeback died on her tongue. “True, and she's heavily focused on finding Titans at this point.”

“A role which I believe she will excel in. I honestly do sleep better at night knowing we have Her Highness to counter that threat, if they are as bad as advertised.”

“They're worse. Trust me on that one.”

“I shall. But beyond all this philosophy, Lady Sparkle, I need to know what, exactly, you plan on doing in my Duchy. If for no other reason than to keep the citizens safe.”

“That much is simple. You have a changeling problem. I'm here to fumigate.”

Demesne paused mid-sip. “I was hoping for specifics, honestly.”

“If I had specifics, I might share them. Unfortunately, it looks like the hive mind of the changelings is more powerful than I thought, which means that my prior plans aren't especially tenable. I found that out just before your hired guards caught up with me.

“That being said, I see some time in the City Archives coming up.”

Demesne sighed. “I see. And I can't convince you to leave this to my police?”

“No. You decided to keep quiet about this, so you get me. Whether you like it or not.”

Duchess Demesne narrowed her eyes. “Understand, Lady Sparkle, that if I had any political leverage at all I could use to kick you out right now, I would use it. In fact, I know for certain I have certain favours I could promise or call in to get that done. Celestia herself would be here to recall you.

“But I see no way that doesn't ultimately backfire politically. It would be a short-term solution, with eventually far more dire long-term costs than I'm willing to pay.

“So, let me make this as clear as possible. I will use the bully pulpit to its greatest effect against you if any of my citizens die because of your actions. Clear?”

Twilight nodded. “What was your secretary’s name?”

There was a pause. “Memoranda.”

Twilight turned and yelled at the door. “Trixie! Memoranda! Could you come in here please?”

As the two entered, Twilight unlatched one of the side doors that led to an outside patio, leaving a clear path to the outside.

The Duchess stood up. “What's this about, Lady Sparkle?”

“You'll see.” Twilight grabbed hold of the two, manoeuvring them so Trixie was to her right and a shaking Memoranda her left, the latter being next to the door. “There, that should do.”

Trixie looked around. “Uh… What?”

Twilight flopped back in her seat, resting her head on her forelegs. “I'll make this simple, ‘Memoranda.’ If you release all the ponies being held by the changelings in Manehatten, I'll grant all the changelings in the Duchy safe passage back into the Gold Desert.”

The Duchess slammed her forehooves on her desk. “What?! A changeling couldn't—”

Twilight silenced her with a held up hoof.

Memoranda was backing herself up, and eventually her rump was kissing the wall. She was shaking so hard the rubbing against the wall was readily audible.

Twilight continued, “Of course, this assumes you remove every member of the Hive from the Duchy. Do that, and I'll stop looking for your local hives more than long enough to get them all out. That's the deal.

“If I find out you didn't fully follow through, of course, the Bellerophon and I will go hunting for your hidey hole in the desert, and you and I will have words. Whether mine are written on explosive shells will depend on how well you behave.

“If you reject my offer, I'm going to keep going until I find every last hive in the city, and at each one I find, I might just send my brother in. You remember him, don't you, Chrysalis? The one you hurt. I happen to know for a fact that he's itching to pay you back. He'll exterminate every changeling he finds just in the hope you can feel their pain through the hive. Clear?”

“This…” Duchess Demesne marched around her desk to Memoranda, looming over her like a storm cloud ready to drop a tornado. “How long? How long have you had her?!”

Memoranda squeaked and slid along the wall, backing up towards the door. “I— I—”

“Spit it out! Where is she?!”

Memoranda’s rear met with the open doorway, and she tumbled haunch over fetlocks twice before coming to a rest on the patio. After a flash of green, ‘Memoranda’ was no more, replaced with a changeling.

The concrete floor of the patio cracked and groaned from the Duchess’s stomp. Little bits that shook loose flew back behind her as she pawed the ground. “Give her back, insect! Tell me where she is! Right now! Or I swear I will make your whole hive regret it for decades!”

The changeling yelped, then zipped into the air, zooming away in a streak of green.

“Sparkle!” Demesne roared, shaking a pen all the way over on the desk. “What in Tartarus were you thinking?!”

Twilight shook her head. “Trust me when I say that I just saved you from a very expensive cleaning bill. There's no way to intimidate or hold a changeling for interrogation. Chrysalis’ command over them is so great that she  can order them to self-destruct.

“What I did was give Chrysalis a way out that didn't involve the loss of untold numbers of her hive. But I meant every word I said. If they take my offer, I'll let them escape under guard, and sweep the city for stragglers and any further ponies that are still captive.

“If she cheats me, I'll launch an expedition to hunt her down. If she rejects the offer—heck, even if she accepts it too slowly—I'm going to bring all the forces I can muster to extinguish every last hive in the city.”

The Duchess folded her forelegs. “And how do you expect to find them all?”

“I'm working on it. There's a few lines of inquiry I'm about to jump on. If I'm right, I’ll need to borrow some of your officers to pull this off.”

“Oh?” Duchess Demesne huffed. “I'm not particularly inclined to help, given the destruction you seem to leave in your wake.”

Twilight shrugged. “If you don't want to, I won't make you. But I’d think your police would lead to less destruction than my backup plan.”

“And what is your backup plan?”

“I'm not particularly inclined to divulge that information, given how prone to changeling infiltration your office is. If you change your mind, send the castle a telegraph. In the meantime, I'm going to go ruin the day of some poor ponies at the Manehatten Hall of Records by deluging them with information requests.

“Trixie? Let's go.” Twilight hopped off her seat, leaving the fuming Duchess behind in her office. She paused briefly next to Memoranda’s desk. One more to rescue. Hang on, Memoranda. I'm coming.

The early afternoon sun was beginning to bake the atmosphere properly by the time Twilight and Trixie arrived at the Hall of Records, and for not the first time, Twilight was wishing for a mission somewhere that wasn't baking hot.

“No clouds,” Trixie said after downing water from her canteen. “No Cloudsdale, no weather resources plentiful enough to micromanage the weather, no cloud cover for hot days.”

“Yeah. It's easy to forget that a little inconvenience like this isn't something to really pout over. Ponies lost their lives in Cloudsdale.” Twilight pulled open the glass and brass door to the Hall of Records, and stepped inside. She was greeted with a rush of arctic air conditioning, and then a knot in her stomach. “Is it wrong, then, to enjoy a building’s HVAC this much?”

“Nope,” Trixie said while making a beeline for a water fountain.

Twilight rolled her eyes and made for the front desk. Like much of the city, it was adorned with gold, or at least brass pretending to be gold. Behind the gilding was dark, heavy, old wood, large enough for three different lines to the counter. At the moment, though, nopony was in queue.

Behind the desk, to both the left and right, were curving staircases going both up and down, as well as hallways leading further into the main floor. The only city that kept better records than Manehatten was Canterlot, and the national capital was much smaller than the sprawling supermetropolis she was currently in.

“May I help you, Miss?” An elderly pony with glasses and a mane done up in a bun was behind the front desk. Her blouse had a green ribbon on it that said “VOLUNTEER,” and she appeared armed with more pamphlets than a doctor’s office.

“Yes, hello.” Twilight had to stretch her neck a bit to get tall enough to look official. The mare behind the desk was old, but tall. And a Grand Mage shouldn't look like a foal when demanding records. It could help cut down on paperwork. “I need access to historical maps of the city, especially of the shelter tunnels underneath it.”

“Ah. Upstairs, your left side. Make sure to be gentle with the papers and put them in the return stack when you're done, or ol’ Hairy will get upset again.”

“Well, that was easier than expected.” Aurora murmured to herself. “Maybe what we're looking for has already been removed?”

Nah, probably just Manehatten’s open records habit. Twilight gave the lady at the desk a polite nod. “Thank you, ma'am. And I'll be careful. I used to be a librarian, so I know how it works.”

The upstairs gave Twilight a tingle at the back of her mind. It was a library. It may have been specialized to specific, dry tasks, but the rows and rows of books and scrolls couldn't be wrong. The brown carpet and boring white industrial walls aside, she felt at home.

The opening area had another front desk, but it was empty, so she let herself in. Snaking through the bookshelves, she cursed the lack of a Dewey Decimal system, but found the maps quick enough regardless. She certainly didn't stop to breathe in the utterly delightful scent of many books brought together in one place, because that would be silly and unprofessional.

“What do you want me to do?” Trixie asked with her ears back, having returned from refilling her canteen. “I'm not so good at book research…”

“Remember, maps, not books. I need to compare what we had mapped out underground in years past to what we have now.”

“Sure. Uhhhh… Why?”

Twilight cracked a smile.  “It occurs to me that, over the years, parts of the underground shelter tunnels have likely been closed off and sealed, but not necessarily filled in or thaumically vitrified to be unusable. If I can find where they are, I can find likely changeling nests.

“After I send in a couple squads to those spots, we'll know if I'm right. If I am, it'll show Chrysalis that I'm serious, and able to find her drones.”

“Ah.” Trixie tilted her head. “That's still trying to do something like get a kink out of a rug. To get them all we need a better way of finding them.”

Twilight froze for a second, then pulled a meter-wide map out of the shelf. “Yeah, what I need to do is figure out a way to expose them all in one go. All the hiding spots and all the drones hiding amidst the populace.”

Trixie looked like Twilight had asked her to put a hoof on a lit stove. “Haven't the Crown agents and the defence industries all been trying to do that for something like seventeen years?”

Twilight chuckled. “Beating insurmountable odds is basically my job description. For now, let's focus on this. Go commandeer a big table, and get us some coffee. This is going to take a while, so when you get back, I’m going to message the castle with an update.”

“Table, coffee. Got it.”

Cloud Burner banged his head on the table over and over. Donut Joe’s had the absolute best tables for that. You could always smell the coffee and baked goods, which meant you were awake and hungry and focused on the pain you were punishing yourself with.

“Been a while, Burner,” a voice that Cloud Burner assumed was from Donut Joe said. “I also haven't seen you bang your head that many times in ages. What's wrong?”

“I'm a moron,” Cloud murmured into the table.

“What was that?”

Cloud lifted his head up and growled, “I'm a moron!”

Donut Joe blinked and looked at the other customers in the shop, along with the employees, who were all staring at Cloud.

Cloud Burner banged his head on the table again. “Moron. Moron.”

“Hey, hey, quit that.” Joe put a donut in the path of his head-desking, which stopped him, but only because he couldn't do that to the poor donut. “This isn't like you. What happened?”

Cloud sighed and eyed the donut and it's chocolate frosting with sprinkles. “I'm so used to being able to more or less waltz into the castle. But I'm a civilian now. I tried to go see Princess Celestia and was told to make an appointment.”

“Oh, ouch. How long?”

“Five years.” Cloud grumbled and inched his head closer to the donut, absorbing more of the cold from the new spot on the table. “Her backlog is nuts. I could send a letter to speed up the process but that would still take at least a week. I don't suppose you have a time machine? Or a place to crash? The hotels around the city are always full.”

Joe slid into the other side of the booth. “Okay, what happened? Hate retirement that much?”

“You could say that.” Cloud stretched a wing, nudging the plate with the donut a few inches closer to his mouth. “Wanted to come back. Or at least get away from Jazzy. Had a job offer from Twilight Sparkle.”

Joe’s eyes lit up at the mention of Twilight. “Well now, that's high praise. She's a smart filly. Well, “mare”, I suppose. Though I'll always remember her as that awkward night-owl filly of Celestia’s that would come in here and study all night.”

There was a bite shaped piece of the donut missing. Where it went was a mystery, and it certainly wasn't Cloud’s stomach. Couldn't be. “Yeah. She asked me to be her charioteer in the Evening Guard. Jazzy ruined my dessert, so I stormed out to go take her up on it.”

“Uuuhhhh…” Joe scratched his head. “Seems kind of extreme for a dessert.”

“Just the latest in a long string of abuses.” The donut in front of Cloud had another piece missing from it. Joe should really look into that. Disappearing confectionery couldn't be good for business. “But when I got to the castle, she wasn't in, so they couldn't clear me. And even if she was here, I have to talk to the Princess before I can accept.”

“So no Twilight, no queue jumping.”

“Yep.” The donut had completely vanished without a trace.

“Well,” Joe said, pulling out a newspaper. “You could always try to find her in Manehatten. Seems she's been chasing changelings.”

Cloud Burner’s ears stood up, followed shortly by the rest of him, and he grabbed the paper. “Twily is in Manehatten, huh? And changelings?”

“I wish her luck. I still remember the attack on Canterlot during the wedding. Dealing with those horrors? Game of whack-a-parasprite.”

Cloud clopped his forehooves together with a devilish grin. “Oh, she can do it. I believe in her. And I think I know how she'll do it.

“I have to get going, hire an express chariot. If I'm lucky, I'll be there in a few hours. Thanks, Joe; you're a lifesaver.”

Joe chuckled and stood up. “Nope. I just sell donuts.”