Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Setting Up

“That is a lot of possibilities.”

Twilight groaned in agreement with Trixie. “Yeah. I didn't expect there to be so many. I can eliminate some for being too small, but even then we're looking at having to check almost a thousand different spots. I need a way to filter this faster, and I'm not sure how just yet.”

“That, or we need a way to drive them out all at once,” Trixie said, passively nibbling on a protein bar. “Or a way to knock some sense into Chrysalis.”

“I’m expected to beat long odds, not perform miracles.” Twilight pulled in a yawn, and fought against the idea of a nap. “I need a break. Pack up the maps; we're commandeering them for the time being. Next step is field research. I want to find one of these spots to see if I can expedite things.”

“You're what?!” An old stallion without a mane hobbled up to them. “Those are Hall property! You can't just—”

Trixie stepped in between them, and stared down the old guy. “Try and stop us. I dare you.”

Twilight put a hoof on Trixie’s barrel and pushed her aside gently. “Sir, my name is Grand Mage Twilight Sparkle. These maps are now seized in the name of national security. I do plan on returning them, but for now, they belong to the Crown.”

The stallion Twilight assumed was “ol’ Hairy” stomped up to her, spreading his halitosis cloud over them. “Like spit you're taking them! I've been caring for this place for fifty years, and they haven't left once in all that time!”

Twilight glared into his eyes, snorting less at his stink and more at his insolence. “I'm taking them. End of discussion.”

He wilted into a mound of fear. “Ye-yes ma'am.”

Twilight passed him, leaving him whimpering in his little domain without his maps.

At the bottom of the stairs, Trixie whispered to her. “How did you do that?”

Twilight shrugged. “Just a little firmness. Trying to be intimidating. Hard to do when I'm short.”

“No, I mean the eye thing.”

She stopped in her tracks. “What eye thing?”

Trixie sat and grabbed her foreleg, shaking as she spoke. “Your eyes. They were glowing… Your whites turned black, but your irises were glowing white.”

Twilight blinked. “I… didn't mean to do that. Are they still…”

“N-no, they went back to normal after you, well, made him give up.”

“Ah. Well.” Twilight cleared her throat. “Best not talk about it here, but let me know if it happens again.”

Realization dawned on Trixie. “Oh, right. Right. Sorry.”

“No worries. Come on, we need food. We've been at this for hours.” Twilight pushed open the door to the outside, then immediately gagged. “Gah! What is this? Is the air water?”

Trixie leaned around her to test the air. “Eh, I've been in worse,” she said, smiling. “Mountain living keep the humidity away? Cause this is actually normal for Manehatten in summer.”

Twilight mentally poked at Aurora, who poked back in a way that implied that Twilight was being a wuss. How Aurora accomplished this was quickly decided to not be something to be thought on and was filed away in the deepest, darkest piece of her memory that her mental committees could find. “Madness. Pure madness. I need to have a word with the Council to make sure their efforts at replacing the weather capacity they lost from Cloudsdale are keeping pace. Because this is clearly cruel to our ponies.”


Twilight and Trixie looked up to a pegasus coming in for a landing in front of them. He had a metallic blue mane, metallic red tail, and grey coat. His muscles showed that he was in top shape, and he landed with all four hooves at once.

“I knew that you'd either be here or the library, Twily. Why beat an enemy with kicks when you can beat them with books?”

“Cloud Burner!” Twilight jumped into him in a big, glomping hug. “It's so good to see you! What are you even doing here?”

Trixie huffed. “And are you a changeling?”

Cloud Burner gave Twilight a hug back, then broke it to drop into a bow. “Test me however you wish, I—”


A wave of pink magic swept over Cloud, washing over him and knocking him down the stairs in a tumble.

Twilight raised an eyebrow at Trixie. “Really? We could have used the new spell.”

Trixie fanned herself with her hat. “Was faster this way. Besides, I thought it suspicious he would just drop in like that.”

“Ugh,” Twilight groaned in reluctant agreement. She powered her horn and popped through reality back to Cloud Burner’s side, helping him to his hooves. “I'm really sorry about that. She's just being careful. But at least now we know he's real, right, Trixie?”

Trixie trotted down the stairs to help. “Real enough, I guess. But it's still odd. Why are you here, Cloud?”

Cloud was standing, but rubbing his head. “Ow. I'm seeing stars. Anypony get the licence plate of that chariot that ran me over?”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Yeah. TR1X13. Who really should warn ponies before doing that.

“But you didn't answer my question. What's up? Not that I’m not glad to see you, of course.”

Cloud shook his head to clear the rattling. “Oof. Right. Sorry. I was hoping that job offer you gave me was still open.”

Twilight beamed. “Of course! I would love to bring you on board! Though if I may ask, what made you change your mind?”

Cloud looked sick to his stomach, and his wings drooped. “My ex. The family gave the Count title to her, which I was fine with. I was happy to just hang out at the restaurant in retirement, but she just couldn't resist making my life miserable.

“She was right about something, though. I shouldn't have been happy sitting on my duff all day. I need something to do. A cause. And if I'm too old for the Day Guard, then I'm more than happy to haul your unicorn butt into and out of whatever fresh hell you manage to find.”

Twilight jumped forward and gave him a quick, sharp hug. “Welcome aboard! I'll have to get Celestia to release you from your oath to her, but I'm sure that can be arranged later. For now, I'd love your help here in Manehatten.”

Cloud Burner stood at attention and saluted. “Yes, ma'am! Anything I can do to help.”

Twilight snickered. “Know any good restaurants? Our priority right now is food. After that…” A bell chimed in Twilight's mind. “Actually. After food, I think I have the perfect thing you can help with.”

Twilight grabbed hold of the safety bar in the chariot as they banked hard to the right.

“Anything yet, Twilight?” Cloud Burner called out behind him. “I'm not complaining, naturally, but ‘All of Manehatten’ is a damn big search area.”

“Not yet!” Twilight traced their route on the map as they soared south down a large road. Though it was still a sunny late afternoon, her horn would have provided plenty of light if it had been night. “The spell matrix is holding as is. At this point, fiddling with it would either break it or make it not sensitive enough. We're stuck with a couple blocks at a time, I think.”

She pushed down a corner of the map with a hoof to stop it from flying away. “But we might not have to check the whole city. If I can find one or two more, there's a chance I'll be able to figure out a pattern to speed things up.”

“Hope so. We'll be at this for days otherwise.”

Twilight!” Trixie’s voice crackled over the radio. “Head back. I lost your signal completely back there for an instant. I think we found one.”

“Good work, Trixie! Cloud, come to a stop.” Twilight gently circled the area on the map with a pencil. “We have a lead. Go back two blocks and start weaving through the buildings. Trixie, keep the line open and say something when the signal vanishes again.”

Got it.”

“Changing vector.” Cloud swung them around on a dime and spread his wings out in a stretch.

They shot forward, coasting and slowing at the target block. At the first alleyway, he banked left, turning the chariot a sharp ninety degrees, perfectly aligned with the space that offered only a few inches to spare.

The proximity of the walls made Twilight's heart thud in her chest for a second. The speed was still blowing her mane around, and keeping her relatively cool in the heat thanks to Cloud’s pegasus magic leaving a cold trail. Her eyes focused in on her charioteer’s wings.

Cloud had Flyven-class wings. Their innate shape meant that he shouldn't be especially good with turns, as they favour power a bit more than manoeuvrability. Yet, as with so many things, practice and experience won out over such limitations. Even retired, he was a Day Guard pegasus. He had to be able to do it all — from turning a heavy chariot to flying at speed for hours on end.

There was no one else out there Twilight would rather have hauling her around.

There! That one!

“We have a candidate! Cloud, put us down on the roof.” Twilight kept hold of the rail, expecting another sharp turn, but Cloud just had them rise vertically, move to their left, and settle down.

Damn. Twilight put a dot on her map. I knew Cloud had training, but I still seriously underestimated him. Even Rainbow couldn't pull that off.

She shook off the thought and hopped out. There was an empty feeling in her stomach, which for once wasn't from lack of food. I'm more in tune with it now. I didn't just stumble on the last one. Subconscious instinct led me to it.

She shut off the search spell, and switched to just spraying the area with idle energy. After a second, she stopped. “Wait. No, I can do better. Cloud?”

“Yes, Ladyship?”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Two things. First, don't call me that unless we're at a very formal function. Even if I was stuck up about that kind of thing, you've earned the right to call me ‘Twilight.’

“Second, I'll need a few seconds of quiet here. I'm going to try something.”

Cloud chuckled and ran a hoof through his metallic blue mane. “You got it, Twilight.”

Twilight closed her eyes, sucked in a breath, and let it out in a trickle. My magic is attuned to the cosmos. Greater than mind, greater than heart, I am one with the fabric of the universe… She repeated the mantra in her mind, tapping into her wellspring, but keeping her horn silent.

Under her hooves, she pooled her power, pushing it ever tighter into a plane below her. She opened her eyes, loosening her grip on the power ever so slightly while still pouring more in.

The roof under her glowed with violet power, rays of light piercing even the opaque roofing tar in places. The air crackled and shook with the will of an alicorn, distorting her sight.

Yet the distortion wasn't enough to hide the black spot in the middle of the roof, and Twilight strode towards it. Each step burned the blackness a little more, until it finally evaporated and revealed an outline of the blood circle hiding under a tile.

“Gotcha!” Twilight rubbed her forehooves together while turning off the fireworks. “I knew there had to be more. Cloud, let's get—”

Cloud was staring at her, wide eyed and mouth agape. “Twily… How?”

A little bell in the back of her head rang in Morse code, You Are A Moron. “How what?” Twilight deflected. “It was a spell.”

“Twilight, your eyes were on fire, and that level of… of just sheer radiative power? The only ponies I've ever seen do that are the Princesses.”

“Yeah, I was inspired by them.” Twilight blinked a few times. “The eye thing might be a side effect. Didn't hurt, though.”

Cloud held his chest and wheezed. “Scared the piss out of me. I thought the spell was backfiring! Celestia would’ve had my hide as a rug if I let anything happen to you.”

“Well, don't worry about it too hard.” Twilight went up to him and pulled him into a little hug, and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Remember my clearance level? Trust me, that spell is kindergarten-level compared to some I've learned. So let me worry about the casting, okay?”

Cloud nodded. “As long as you promise to not blow yourself up.”

Twilight hid a smirk, then crossed her heart. “I promise to never blow myself up from an accidental miscast.”

He sighed in relief. “Okay. I feel bett—wait: Why were you that specific?”

Twilight hopped back in the chariot. “Let's get moving; we have more of the city to check! Trixie, get your end of the spell ready again. We found a circle here, so let's hunt down some more.”

“Twily, you didn't answer my question.”

“And you technically don't have clearance right now. Come on, we're burning daylight!”

Cloud Burner rolled his eyes. “You've been hanging around Princess Celestia too much.”

“I studied under her wing. I mean, literally under her wing. Even fell asleep a few times. I suppose it's inevitable I'd adopt a few of her quirks.” Twilight unfolded her map.

Cloud hooked himself back up to the harness. “Continue the same pattern?”

Twilight shook her head. “Nuh-uh. We have two circles now. That's enough to start to form a pattern. Give me a few seconds here.”

She marked the new circle in the map, and chewed on the end of her pen. “Two points form a line, but it strikes me as unlikely that there are more circles that happen to all be in a straight line. But the distance between these two can still form a guide.”

She marked two new spots away from the two she had, each the same distance from the ends as the first two points were from each other. On the outer two points, she drew two arcs, one northwards, and one southwards. “We have two new search grids. We’ll pick up Trixie and head to the southwest first, and if we find one there, the next, if there is one, should be much easier to find.”

Cloud Burner put a hoof to his ear. “Trixie, you copy?”

“I heard her. Ready for pickup.”

Twilight stared at her map, pondering what she'd drawn on it. After a yawn, she looked up and watched the sunset instead. Pink light was radiating from the horizon, and the first bright stars had already appeared above her. They paled in comparison to the lights below, however.

Manehatten was the city that never slept, and aside from that garnering a lot of love from Luna, it meant that the lights never went out. Gold hues took over for the sun as it set, and the art deco stylings of many of the buildings turned the city center into a gilded wonderland. The outer areas weren't so lit up, but even so, life was stirring.

Canterlot was a wonder of architecture, but Manehatten was a wonder of life.

Shaking off the daydream and coming back to the humid reality, the map had a grim message. Five magic circles of dried changeling blood had been installed in the city without the knowledge of any of the levels of government. They'd been arranged equidistant from each other in a pentagon, effectively creating the points of a pentagram enveloping a huge portion of the populace.

The memory of the westernmost circle—the one she and Luna already destroyed—put a shiver down her spine. Even if her plan worked, that would leave a hole in a good sized area. Not much choice now, filly. “Cloud?”

The stallion stood at attention. “Yes?”

“I need you to make a delivery for me. Since Duchess Demesne isn't especially cooperative, I need to appeal to somepony who has a deeply-vested interest in the success of this operation.”

Trixie’s jaw dropped. “You're actually going to ask a mobster for help? Twilight, please tell me you're not.”

“Help? No, I can't do that.” Twilight bit her hoof and thought. “But if he happened to get a document telling him my plan, he might just act on his own.”

Trixie took off her hat and screamed in it for a moment.

“Twilight,” Cloud said, voice low and rumbling. “This is a dangerous move. It could well work now, but it could come back to bite you. Hard.”

Twilight closed her eyes. “I hear you. If it comes out that I worked with him, that would be a major political blow to both myself and the Princess. But working with Demesne has pitfalls, too.

“I think the best option here is to try to force Demesne’s hoof to help, but even if I don't wind up needing Trade, he's already put his goons on high alert. I'm going to have to tell him to keep his ponies under control while I execute the plan.”

Her eyes opened with new focus. “Trixie, I need you to go to a store and get me a camera and a stack of carbon paper. Cloud? See if you can find a reputable reporter and get them to Demesne’s office.”

Cloud smiled and pulled out a paper with an address on it. “Oh, I know just the mare for the job.”

“Good. Meet me there in an hour. I'll need a bit of time to work out the details of this spell.”

Twilight watched them leave, then popped a few joints in her neck before opening her notebook, studying the changeling-blood magic circle she'd sketched before.

“I still don't recognize these symbols. Aurora, is there anything I’m missing that you remember?”

Aurora appeared next to her and shook her head. “No. Strange though it is to say, this has to be a foreign school of magic.

“I'm curious, though. Your thoughts are nebulous to me right now. Do you think you can work with such a foreign magic in such a short time?”

“Well, I think so. I'm not trying to create a spell that hooks into the mechanics of the circle. That would be… uh, bad, let's say. But what I can do is use the explosion from it breaking as a power source. Even though most of the energy is psychic, there is still an enormous amount of magic power in them. If I can set up a spell capable of tapping into that, I can temporarily bring the entirety of the changeling force in Manehatten to its knees.”

And what happens when the effect wears off?”

“With luck, they'll have police on them by then. Unless the infestation is even larger than I thought, which is why I'm debating getting help from Trade. However, I'm hoping that the paper from Linear Matrix a few years back was right, and that there's a proportional, mathematical limit to how many changelings can be in a given population before they start getting discovered en masse.

“But there is one thing I'm still curious about…” Twilight put a red circle towards a spot on her map, equidistant from all five magic circles. “It's this. What's special about the center? Is there anything special about it? Is it coincidence, or is it possible that the circles were deliberately laid out in a way to offer maximum coverage of this exact spot?”

Hmmm. It's on the south side of Manehatten Island, and looks like an industrial and sea port area. Manages ship-based cargo transit for both sea and air shipping. Perhaps it's something being hidden?”

“That's entirely possible, but I'm not sure I want to just go stomping around. The location may not be exact, and it's a ton of space to go snooping through. It would take some time, and I want the changelings gone tonight.

What happens to it when we break the circles?”

Twilight's brain choked on some neurotransmitters and yelled at her prefrontal cortex to knock off the silliness already. “That's a good question… I want to be coordinating this, but we need some real power there just in case things get nuts. Which means I need the Night Guard again, and preferably at least one Cardinal, like Bloodmoon. And maybe I can bring Intelligentsia along as well; I'm sure she'd be interested in this, too.”

Twilight folded up her map and stuffed all her gear into her saddlebags. “Let's get moving. I need to send a telegraph to Canterlot and go knock on Duchess Demesne's door.”

Cloud Burner counted the doors as he trotted down the hall of a modest apartment building in Manehatten. It was an older building, but well kept and with a certain charm, even if the air wasn't as fresh as that of Cloudsdale or Canterlot. At number two-one-four, he stopped and double checked the little piece of paper he had.

“Yep, this is the place.” He cleared his throat a couple times, then pulled out the rose he bought on the way before knocking on the door. Wait, should I find a bathroom and fix up my mane?

Locks in the door clicked open.

Nope. No time. Hope she remembers me. Cloud put on what he hoped was a friendly smile; they never really taught that in the military.

The door creaked open, and the reporter mare that had helped them in Cloudsdale poked her head out. Her face lit up like a firework. “Cloud! It's that really you?”

Cloud held up the rose in his hoof and kept his face locked in what he really hoped was the setting for “happy” instead of “creepy.” “Uh, yep. Hi!”

She pulled the door open the rest of the way. “Please, come in! I'm surprised, I mean, I thought that—”

Cloud held up a hoof. “Before I do that, I should warn you I need a little favour.”

Verity Print looked like something inside her shattered. “I don't have much money, and I—”

“What? No!” Cloud’s wings flapped open. “Nothing like that. It's for Twilight Sparkle. You know, the Grand Mage?”

“Oh,” she said plainly. “Are you and she—”

“Nuh-uh. Shot me down a long time ago. It's more of a reporting favour. In a bit she's going to try to, uh, ‘negotiate’ with Duchess Demesne over something, and she wants to give you first access to the news just in case the Duchess backstabs her.”

The light returned behind the mare's eyes, along with a little twinkle. “Oh! Well, far be it for me to pass on a scoop. I was just hoping you were here for—”

Cloud’s cheeks caught fire. “Well, I'm not not here because of that.”

If there was a twinkle before, now it was all the way up to sparkling. “So, you are interested…”

“Well, maybe.” Cloud swallowed. “I mean, you're hot, but you should also know I'm in Twilight's Evening Guard now, so I'll be travelling and—”

Verity leaned forward and plucked the rose out of his hoof. “And know all the juicy stories before anypony else? You do know the nicest things to say to a girl.”

Cloud caught her in his forelegs as she swooned up to him. “Um, yeah, you could put it that way, though a lot of it would be classified to high heaven…”

“First out the declassified gate is still first, usually. Even without pictures.” She traced a circle on his chest with a hoof. “I'll be happy to help you, but I need a little favour first.”

His heart went thu-thump. Twilight was counting on him. “Um, actually, Twilight wants you to be at the Duchess’ place in like forty minutes, so—”

Verity licked her lips. “I only need fifteen…”

Somewhere in Cloud Burner's brain a little switched flipped and a sign reading “You Are A Moron” lit up as he realized what she was talking about. But I need to make sure she’s not a changeling first… Oh, there’s a kitchen! That gives me an idea. It’s makeshift, but it should work. With a big, silly grin he trotted in and closed the door behind him. “The things I do for Equestria…”

“Okay, I've got the mini-contract drawn up, just in case.” Twilight rolled up the carbon paper and stuffed it in Trixie's saddlebags. “I don't want to use it if I don't have to, though. Here's hoping the Duchess will be reasonable after we exposed her secretary as a changeling.”

Trixie looked up at the darkening sky and the top of [] tower. “You'd think, but sometimes I think an unreasonable stubbornness is a prerequisite for being a noble.”

“After seeing what Earthen Pride did in the Empyreal Hall? I'm certain of it. Especially considering that being a Duchess or Duke means you not only have to run a Duchy, but watch your back against the lower nobility who would love to have the seat for themselves.”

Twilight leaned over the edge of the rooftop they were on, watching the ponies below. There were fewer at night, but in downtown, the streets were never empty. The tower was just a few blocks away, and the Duchess’ office was still lit up. Odds are she's going to be pulling an all-nighter trying to deal with the fallout I dropped on her lap.

“Where's Cloud Burner?” Trixie asked. “He was supposed to be back by now.”

“Right here!” A pair of pegasi came in for a landing, first Cloud Burner, then a pegasus mare in business attire.

“Lady Sparkle,” Cloud said with a bow. “Allow me to introduce Verity Print. She's a reporter for the Cloudsdale Chronicle’s Manehatten division, and the one who worked with us to bust Duke Esteem.”

Twilight's eyes lit up. ”Oh, excellent! I'm pleased to finally meet you, Miss Print. And I'm sorry to trouble you at this hour.”

Verity bowed, blushing. “Not at all, Your Ladyship. The news doesn't sleep, but it does seem to follow you around, and I'm always ready for a scoop. Are we taking down another Duke today?”

I wish, she thought with a giggle. “No, I just need you here to ensure Duchess Demesne's cooperation with my current operation. I'm afraid I must ask you to stay with us and not report anything until I give the okay. However, once I do, you'll be able to submit a much more complete report than anypony else. Deal?” Twilight held out a hoof.

“Deal!” Verity gave her a hoofbump, then immediately took out a notebook and started scribbling something.

“Wait a moment.” Trixie lit her horn. “We just split up and reunited. We need to verify we're who we say we are. Cloud?”

Cloud’s pupils turned into pinpricks. “Aw, heck.”


Cloud took a direct hit of pink magic to the face, and fell back like a sack of hammers. “Owie.”

Squeak…” Verity froze into a squeaking statue.

“Trixie,” Twilight said with a groan. “You don't need to be that rough. Here, watch this.” She lit her horn, and set up a simple magic circle under them. It spun itself into a sphere, then shot small beams criss-crossing the interior space. Some hit the occupants, feeling like a mild punch on her flesh.

The beams, while not harmful, were dense enough to disrupt any changeling illusion. It was basically the same magic she used during the changeling assault on Canterlot years ago, just more carefully tuned and controlled.

A few seconds later, the circle vanished, and the three mares started rubbing the spots where they'd been hit.

Verity flexed forward one of her wings, rubbing what was likely a sore spot. “I think I'm going to be a bit sore in the morning.”

Cloud Burner flopped over. “You? I'm going to need more physical therapy.”

“You'll be fine. Come on, let's go meet with the Duchess.” Twilight jumped off the ledge with Trixie close behind, both teleporting near the bottom to land. After a few strides, the pegasi caught up.

Verity hopped a little to stop herself from tripping while putting away her notebook. “How did you… I've never seen a unicorn jump off a building like that!”

Twilight gave her guest a warm smile. “I'm full of surprises at this point. But teleportation has been a spell I've been practicing for many years now. It's been very helpful to me as Grand Mage.”

“And I've only learned it recently,” Trixie added. “But I never would have figured it out without Lady Sparkle’s guidance.”

“Sounds like you two have a good working relationship! Although I suppose I should expect that of the Evening Guard.” Verity looked like she wanted to get her notebook out again. “What exactly are we going to do at the Duchess’ office?”

Twilight grabbed hold of the door to [] tower. “Magic.”

It took some talking, but they were eventually allowed back up the tower to the office of the Duchess. When the lift opened its doors, the Duchess was waiting for them, staring Twilight in the eyes.

Her demeanour would be generously called “gruff”, but a more accurate term would be “outright contemptuous”. “Give me one reason I shouldn't toss you out the window,” Demesne demanded.

Twilight’s smile only grew. “One, my teleportation spell means I'd be right back up here in two seconds. Two, I have a plan to purge the city of changelings by around ninety percent overnight, and I'm betting that's better than anything you have.”

Duchess Demesne’s eyes betrayed her resignation as she waved them in. The entrance to her personal office had police going over Memoranda's desk with a fine-toothed comb and a few other officers who silenced themselves as the group walked through.

The doors to the office clicked shut behind them, and the Duchess pressed a crystal button on the wall, turning on a ward of some kind. “First question,” she said, not yet turning to face Twilight. “Why do you have a reporter with you?

Twilight smirked. “Independent documentation of important events. She's agreed not to publish anything until this is all said and done. If you're uncomfortable, I can still execute the plan without you, but I'll have to allow for a much greater margin of error.”

The Duchess huffed. “Fine, she can stay. But I'll be holding you personally responsible if she leaks sensitive information.”

“Deal. Shall we?”

The Duchess motioned to her large desk, and the group gathered around.

Twilight unfurled her map on the desk, anchored the ends, and cleared her throat. She paused for a second to take in the Duchess’ shocked look at the map, which was covered in Twilight’s hornwriting, the locations of the changeling blood circles, and various arcane symbols.

“What is this?” Duchess Demesne asked. “Those aren't the city wards…”

“They are indeed not,” Twilight said. “These are the locations of five incredibly powerful magic circles that I have uncovered in the city. They were well hidden and are created using changeling blood. However, data discovered over the course of my investigation suggests that they were not put there by changelings, but by some other force, one which is likely opposed to them.”

Demesne flopped back in her chair. “If they were so well hidden, how did you find them, or know where to look?”

“Magic.” Twilight smirked. “But the truly important thing is the sheer amount of psychic force embedded in them. Hundreds, if not thousands of times greater than I've ever seen before. Our working hypothesis is that these may be disrupting the changeling hivemind — but at a cost.

“Whatever they are doing, it is also drawing changelings to the city for some reason, hence the greater-than-normal number of reports. If I had to guess, it may be affecting changelings outside the city in an uncomfortable way, which means they are also here to put a stop to these machinations.”

Demesne scratched her chin. “So, if these are disrupting the hivemind, wouldn't that be an advantage?”

“No; the cost of drawing in more changelings is too great in and of itself. In addition, they are unlawfully placed spells affecting the whole city, and we don't know if they are capable of a secondary purpose. So I'm going to destroy them.”

Demesne went into a coughing fit. “Are you nuts? You just said they're packed with psychic energy!”

“Energy tuned to changelings. I'm certain it will be safe.” Twilight tilted her head and lowered one ear. “After all, we've already destroyed one.”

Duchess Demesne hushed herself. “That light earlier…”

“I admit I didn't expect such an energetic reaction, but even those close to the epicentre seem just fine, apart from a few headaches. It's simply not attuned to ponies. But changelings? If I'm right, any of them within their radius of effect will be incapacitated for at least a few moments.”

Twilight sucked in a breath. “Which is why I need your help. I need every available emergency responder you have to be ready and waiting above the city. They need to be able to respond in less than a minute. Call up forces from the military on top of it, if there are capable units nearby. The more ponies we have ready to pounce, the better.

“And most importantly, don't tell them what we're doing. Keep it all a secret until just before I set things off. If any changelings are in the ranks, we want them so surprised when this happens that they get caught before they can cause trouble.”

The Duchess eyed the map. “You'll have everything I can manage to call up. But there's still one issue.

“After these explosions go off, how do we know where changelings are? It'll be hard to see them at night, and that's if they are outside when this happens.”

“Just leave that to my spell.” Twilight winked. “Trust me, it'll expose not just changelings, but any of their mini-hives in range. In a few hours, the changelings are going to suffer their greatest loss since Canterlot.”