Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Drums of a Distant March

Twilight lay down on the stone of Celestia’s balcony, watching the morning sky. The Princess had given her time to gather her thoughts, but in truth they were still running around like a bunch of squirrels on a sugar rush. The consequences of her coming transformation touched on so many aspects of her life it was hard to think properly. Even her beloved lists were failing her, as priorities shifted the instant something new popped into her head.

Despite the reminder of her circumstances, it was still a relief to have Celestia lie down next to her again with another comforting wing draped over her back. The warmth of her mentor was a welcome contrast to the cold stone and marble underneath them.

Looking up at the white figure revealed something unusual indeed. In place of Celestia’s typical billowy mane was a mostly normal one. Pink hair flowed from her head like a waterfall that transitioned to blonde about halfway down.

“It’s been awhile since I had my mane like this. I sort of doubt anypony alive has ever seen it. I don’t find it to be that comfortable, truthfully.”

“I think it’s beautiful, princess!” She actually thought it looked better than her normal hair, despite the sudden craving for strawberries.

“I’m glad you think so. It’s always an untamed mess when I shut off its power. Hehe, look at me, I’ve got split ends everywhere!”

Twilight giggled in relief. “It’s not so bad!”

Celestia chuckled. “Oh, but it is! Princess Celestia’s hair a national eyesore! Scandal! Fleur ds Lis distances herself from Canterlot elite; Rarity sees it and sets new record for consecutive dramatic faintings!”

That got a full laugh. The Princess could be quite the sarcastic card when she figuratively, and literally, let her mane down.

“It’s good to hear you laugh, Twilight. I know this isn’t an ideal situation for you.”

Her thoughts from moments ago came rushing back. “Yeah. It’s going to take some getting used to,” Twilight said, lowering her head.

“If it’s any consolation, the physical changes aren’t much to worry about just yet. It’s doubtful, though not impossible, that any will be seriously noticeable in the immediate future. It will be even longer before any are complete. Luna and I have called the completion of these aspects ‘summits’, representing an arrival at a new high point of our ascendancy. These include physical growth, horn growth, the ethereal mane, and the appearance of wings.

“The first three will start to develop gradually and can grow simultaneously during ascension, but which order they’ll start forming and complete themselves in will be random. Some may start happening soon and complete quickly, or drag on throughout your ascendancy while the other properties finish first, despite having started later. The last property, wings, can come at any time, and will happen instantly, and it will most likely be a while. Years, even. Though, I would try to be away from other ponies when any of the summits happen, or at least be outdoors. The completion of a summit tends to be accompanied by a large burst of magic.”

This was comforting. It meant it wasn’t likely for her to suddenly sprout wings or grow taller in an instant tomorrow, and she could still be seen as a unicorn, at least for a while.

“Also, it’s been seven hundred years since there has been a Grand Mage. I doubt civilian ponies will know how to really respond to you at first. I’d imagine that for the time being, they’ll treat you as a normal high-ranking noblepony, which should help since you should already be accustomed to it.”

Twilight sat up a little straighter. “I just realized that I don’t even know how a Grand Mage is supposed to be treated. I can’t recall it in any of the nobility protocol books.”

Celestia nodded. “That’s expected, really. I purposefully suppressed Crimson’s history. And Luna’s, for that matter.” Celestia raised a hoof and touched her student's shoulder. “It sounds odd, I know, but I knew Luna would return someday. When she did, I didn’t want ponies to know about the history, or at least not believe it. I wanted her to have a clean slate. Now that she’s back, we’ve been re-releasing the history, slowly.”

Twilight looked down at the ground. It seemed a little unbelievable that her mentor would actually suppress knowledge, but then, they were sisters.

“So that’s why I didn’t hear about Crimson until a few years ago,” she said.

“Exactly, Twilight. Stellar wasn’t Grand Mage for long, so it’s normal that he wasn’t remembered as much. Starswirl held the title long, long before the Lunar Rebellions. Before Discord, even. Time, as ever, clouds history. It didn’t help that he was very reclusive.

“Anyway, each of them had their own idea of ‘protocol.’ They sort of chose their own in that regard. Starswirl wanted to be bowed to and called ‘master’. Crimson was ever the soldier, wanting to be saluted. I think Stellar might be the most like you, really. He always wanted to go by unnoticed, until he had something important to contribute. He had a hard time with that since his ethereal mane came in almost right away.”

“I didn’t realize Starswirl had an ego like that,” Twilight said, cringing a bit.

“Hmm. I know he was an important role model for you, Twilight, but he was not a gentle stallion. Nor was he... entirely balanced, looking back. An unmatched mind to be sure, but at the cost of emotional stability.”

“I’m not that bad, am I?” Twilight cringed a little more. She remembered her own past “episodes.”

“Are you obsessing over doorknobs and experimenting with temporal mechanics in order to change the color of your owl?”


“Then you’re fine. Come talk to me when you’re seeing eyes follow you around.”


“Indeed. It’s still hard, though. I still miss him.” Some genuine sadness showed through to Celestia’s face. Twilight could tell that this was the real her, not the face she put forward for all her subjects.

The significance of this revelation about Starswirl didn’t move her like it should. It was the Princess’ last sentence that weighed on her.

“Do you miss everypony you’ve met?” she asked.

“All the time. But the pony heart is a curious thing. Its room isn’t finite. We miss those we’ve lost, yet we still have room for the new ponies that come into our lives. Alicorns even more so. For all we lose, we see what we have, and we can’t trade it for anything.”

“But what happens when you make a mistake? When it’s your fault?”

“The same as when anypony makes a mistake. I learn from it, and try to help as many ponies as I can with that new knowledge. I know it sounds simple and harsh, but if I’m to be any kind of leader, that’s the only thing I can do. No matter how much it hurts.”

Twilight looked back out at the sky for a moment. “Does it ever stop hurting? When you make a mistake and somepony gets hurt?”

Celestia exhaled sharply. “If it ever does, I’ll toss my crown to Luna and abdicate the throne. It’s not about experiencing loss without hurting, Twilight. It’s about having enough of a connection to what you have to be able to overcome it.”

Twilight looked back down at the floor. She’d heard this lesson before, but this provided it a darker context. “I guess having friends really is the key, isn’t it? Is that why you sent me to Ponyville?”

Celestia nodded.

“I suppose I can understand that. It’s just… now I feel like I’m being torn again. The first few nights in Ponyville I felt like I was a part of two worlds. One, this world here in the castle, the other one in that small town of crazy ponies. I’m getting that feeling again now.”

Celestia’s gaze moved away from Twilight and into the sky. “Hmmm. Well, I can understand that. I don’t think it’s about the town, though. Towns come and go, some grow large, some stay small. With new technologies, Ponyville could boom into a metropolis and lose its charm, or bust into just a few farms and become a ghost town. It all changes.

“What matters isn’t the place, it’s the ponies you connect to, that understand you. But there needn’t be just one group or one area you ‘belong’ to. You have your friends in Ponyville, so you feel you ‘belong’ there. If you had another group of friends in Manehatten, you could ‘belong’ there too at the same time. Even if the exact feeling you get from them is different, the friendship can be just as strong. Don’t discount the power of friendship, especially from friends you haven’t yet met.”

Twilight unleashed a melancholy sigh. “I’m still not looking forward to losing the ones I have now. I’m going to watch them die.”

“That would’ve been likely anyway, my student. Powerful unicorns live a long time, powerful unicorn mares even more so.”

“I know,” Twilight groaned. “But at least I would’ve gotten to join them. It wouldn’t have to hurt for as long.”

“Twilight. Loss is a part of life, whether it’s as long as ours or as relatively short as a normal pony’s. Coping with loss is also a part of life. We have to do it for longer, but having a death wish to avoid it is not healthy.”

“I know…”

“I mean it, Twilight. If you ever truly feel this way, seek out me or Luna. We’ll help you, ok? Promise me.”

She looked up into Celestia eyes. The tone implied scolding, but the eyes held nothing but worry.

“I promise.” Twilight crossed her heart. Anything to assuage those worrying eyes.

Celestia gave her a small nuzzle, though Twilight couldn’t quite return it as she began a long yawn, which merely reminded her how tired she was.

“Are you alright, Twilight?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a bit tired,” she lied. She was very tired, but that wasn’t something she had ever let stop her before.


The huge alicorn stood up over Twilight, triggering an appreciation of just how large her mentor really was compared to her. Am I really going to grow? Am I going to be that... huge?

“Come then,” Celestia said, re-igniting her mane. “I have something important to show you.”

Twilight got up and followed her mentor towards the door, the warmth they shared quickly fading in the cold morning air. Even the stone under her hooves seemed much colder now. After exiting through the large double doors, Luna stood up from her waiting place and began to follow them as a book floated itself down next to a small table near the doors.

It didn’t take long for the longer legs of the alicorns to force Twilight to move her pace up to a trot to keep up with their casual stride as they moved through the castle and down the large flight of steps. This early in the morning very few other ponies were around, and the castle's empty halls seemed to take on a new, but familiar atmosphere.

"Princess," she began. "May I ask another question?"

Celestia turned her head and smiled at her, displaying her uncanny ability to not look where she was going down steep steps and not fall, a skill no doubt honed from centuries of repeating the same path. "Of course, Twilight."

"I know that a new…" Twilight paused as she looked around for anypony that might overhear, but chose to be discrete despite not seeing any. "I know that a new you-know-what is a big deal, but why does that mean I have to stay in the castle for so long?"

"Ah, slightly ahead of me, Twilight. We’re going to the basement to answer that very question."

Twilight cringed in panic a little. The castle guards usually said “basement” when they meant dungeon.

Celestia seemed to pick up on the implication and recovered quickly. "I'm not sending you to the dungeon, Twilight, I meant the War Room."

If there was a way to be simultaneously relieved and thoroughly embarrassed, Twilight had just determined the perfect face to make to express the combination. "Oh, of course, I… okay, I didn't know that. But wasn't that one of the rooms that I'm not allowed in?"

Celestia seemed to increase her pace a little through the halls, but if she was nervous, she didn’t show it. "Ah yes, I do recall saying that, when I first took you as a student. Excellent memory as always, Twilight, but things have changed since then."

"Sister," Luna interrupted. "Speaking of government issues, Lieutenant-Commander Sunsail wanted to talk to me about our little project, and I have a new unicorn to orient and integrate into my Night Guard." Luna swung around to Celestia's other side and bent down to speak into Twilight's ear. "I’ll be back later. If she gets too serious, ask her about the diet she had to go on last year."


"I'm going, I'm going." The blue alicorn used her wings to fly forward, turning around corners and gracefully avoiding all obstacles. It gave Twilight another measure of comfort to once again see the two acting like true sisters.

Celestia sighed, but it was more in relief than exasperation. “She’s gotten a lot more sociable now that ponies are attending her Night Court regularly. Though the cases she handles are different.”

"Different?" Twilight asked, increasing her pace to move alongside Celestia instead of slightly behind.

"Yes, Luna tends to not suffer fools lightly. If both sides are being deceptive, she'll likely come up with a solution that neither side likes. Since deception is part of her domain, the night, she's usually excellent at seeing through it. The ponies have learned this and want to avoid her if that's their aim, but her schedule is relatively free, so if either side requests her instead of me, they'll almost always get her despite whatever protests the other lodges. It's been rather freeing for me."

Twilight had to duck a little as Celestia spread her wings on the word “freeing”. She could easily imagine flight and freedom being connected. Once she got them, wings would definitely be on her “top ten alicorn benefits” list. Maybe Rainbow could even teach her to fly.

Celestia continued, "Since any truthful party could request her and be reasonably assured a victory, it didn’t take long for all the clear-cut cases with an obvious ‘correct’ party to fall to Luna, leaving me for the 'real' ones." Twilight noticed that there was a slight amount of not-quite-disgust in the word "real". "Then, one time Luna took over for my Court while I was off on an emergency diplomatic mission. Halfway through the first day, she made a new decree that anypony that lied to her in court would get arrested."

"Isn't that already the law?" she asked. “I mean, I can’t think of a better example of perjury.”

Celestia’s new grin was almost sly; Twilight felt it was honestly somewhat unnerving on someone so powerful, and she put some lateral distance between them. "Yes, but you see my dear, I have a gentler touch. I usually expose the lie and get them to repent and reach an agreement with the other side more easily. Luna... Luna has the liar arrested and either reschedules the case at the end of the queue or declares the other party victorious. As if by magic, about two-thirds of my cases for the next three months had decided to negotiate between themselves!"

The teacher and student shared a laugh at that as they arrived at the door to the war room and sat down. "Oh, but that isn't even the best part!" the Princess continued. "After that, Luna and I started randomly switching shifts every so often. Our ponies never truly know if they're going to get me or her. It's done wonders to discourage frivolous cases."

The chuckles calmed down a bit as Twilight pondered a different interpretation of the events. "Wait, would that mean that ponies are still afraid of her?"

Celestia nodded. "I'm glad you can see that, and that is the case with some. However, the honest ones have found a true champion, and that has done much to improve her reputation. I remember one case a few months ago where a mining company had tried to buy the land of a small town outside Fillydelphia, but was deceptive in the contract. Luna saw through it immediately and gave the town the money and the land. They have statues of her all over the town now. Anyway, to your question about why you need to stay here."

Celestia knocked in a peculiar pattern on the door, and its opening revealed something Twilight did not expect: a shimmering field of magical energy that could only mean a portal.

"Come, stay close."

Twilight did as she was told, and stepped into the portal directly beside Celestia. She knew all too well what kind of security must be in place for the portal, and kept as close as she could to be shielded by her mentor.

Everything went dark and her heart skipped a beat, then she gasped as the light came back in an instant. She found herself in the middle of an impressively large room, far larger than what should have been possible in the castle. The room was long and about twice as wide as the castle's main corridors, with many alcoves lining the side, each with their own map table and multitude of documents and images on the walls. She looked up, and saw pegasi in military uniforms moving between upper alcoves high above the lower floor, while unicorns and earth ponies all moved about and talked over their respective assignments. Many of them were carrying weapons with them.

The visual aesthetics were different, too. Gone was the marble and the stained glass, except the peach marble tiling on the floor. Dense, dark wood formed the structure, while clear glass and chalkboards lined the walls. Each alcove was abuzz with at least two or three ponies going over features on the textured maps or discussing clusters of papers, pictures, and diagrams on the walls. Some were arguing amongst themselves loudly, others were chatting over coffee, the smell of which permeated the air along with the scent of wood and paper.

"Welcome, Twilight, to the War Room." Twilight jumped a little at the voice. It felt like Celestia hadn't been there until that moment. Depending on how the portal worked, she might not have been.

"This is where Luna and I really run the country. All the known threats to my beloved ponies, foreign and domestic, are tracked and thwarted in this room. It's what occupies the majority of our time, and it signifies the reason you must remain here."

Twilight was still taking it all in. With a cursory glance, she saw pictures of griffons, dragons, ponies, even the princesses on the walls.

"Royalty arrived! Atten-tion!” The booming voice screamed behind her and right in her ears with a sound wave so intense she could swear there was a new tunnel in her head connecting her ears.

In an instant, every single pony in the room stopped what they were doing and bowed to the princess in uncanny synchronization. A split second later, every pegasus in the air hit the ground with a resounding crash of hooves and they too went into a bow.

Celestia responded unfazed, and Twilight wondered if alicorns were supposed to be immune from absurdly loud yelling as well. "At ease, everypony. I'm sure most of you know my student, Twilight Sparkle. As of this moment, I'm giving her full security clearance. She may be here or anywhere else without an escort. Please show her the respect she is due for her service to this country and her new title. That will be all."

The ponies all got back to their work, with some still gazing at their new arrival. She could swear she had seen some of them before, but couldn't match any names.

Celestia interrupted her before she could finish her thoughts. "Now, Twilight, come here. I want to show you something."

She followed Celestia down the hall, and discovered the end of the hall was split into two directions that had yet more halls and alcoves. She wasn't sure entirely how big this facility was. "We're actually inside the mountain, not the castle, if you're wondering. The halls go in a large loop, with an elevator in the back side that leads to half a dozen more levels. We built it after the changeling incident."

Celestia knew her too well.

"Now, here, look in this alcove." She turned right again to a particularly large alcove with three ponies stepping off to the side in silence. Two of them were identical-looking earth stallions large enough to plow Sweet Apple Acres' fields, but otherwise looked very much like they belonged here in their military uniforms. The third was a unicorn mare with a short, blonde mane and looked every bit as military as the stallions, but they were far more nervous than they should have been. Even taking Celestia into account. What really caught her attention was the pictures in the center-back wall of the alcove: they were of herself! Some in her home, some around Ponyville, others in Canterlot or other places she had visited.

Quickly, she glanced at the table, and saw a map that traced out her movements perfectly for the last several years. Every little side trip. There were other ponies' paths marked, too, but she didn't know whose.

Her mind quickly demanded more information, and she turned to the left side of the alcove, and saw images of ponies and dragons and griffins and other species she'd never met before, with lines going in between them on the underlying chalkboard. Some of the pictures had a giant red "X" on them, others a blue "X", others none at all.

Celestia finally explained. "These are pictures of those that have made plans to bring you harm, my student. The ones with a blue 'X' have been captured."

Twilight quickly turned to face her princess, her eyes watering. “Then… what do the red…”

Celestia nodded. "I'm afraid those are less fortunate. We always try to capture when we can, but the ones with a red mark had to be terminated during the course of their investigation. The others are still at large."

Twilight's breathing pace picked up and she began to cry a little. She looked up at Celestia, almost begging to make sense of her world again. "What did I do?"

Sadness and obvious love returned to break the Princess' composure again. "You became important to me. That's all the justification these… despicable beings need. We have ten ponies in the war room alone working in shifts around the clock just on you to analyze and thwart their plans before they ever get close. If they find out about your ascent, well, maybe you should finish that, Intelligentsia.”

The mare with gray fur stood up ramrod straight in a jolt. "Yes, of course Your Majesty. We estimate that roughly a third would abandon their plans for her altogether, but the others would either try to halt her ascent by assassination, or bring her to their side. Her psychological profile indicates…” Intelligentsia looked into Twilight's eyes with a stark hesitation and surprising fear, but Celestia's face demanded a continuation. “… her devotion to you would render any such attempts to get her to betray us utterly futile.”

When Intelligentsia finished, Twilight was shaking, her knees knocking together before she fell on the ground. She couldn't believe so many were trying to harm her, and didn't know what hurt more, that she had so many brushes with death that she didn't know about or that there were some in ponydom that were that cruel.

"And once she completes her ascension?" Celestia asked.

Intelligentsia coughed. "Well, ma'am, we can't fully simulate actions out that far, but if she attains full alicornhood, then only the most powerful of dragons could ever bring her direct harm. And, I know it isn't my place to say this, but, Ms. Sparkle, when you do ascend, we'll still be here for you, no matter what you need us for."

Twilight attempted to breathe in, but only managed a sniffle through her tears. "You will?" she asked, unable to look the unicorn in the eyes and unsure why such a statement from a stranger brought her so much comfort.

"Absolutely," came the reply, confident and strong.

The other two, both earth ponies with brown coats of fur and gray hair and looking uncannily similar, relaxed and spoke up with distinctive accents that Twilight couldn't quite place. "Aye, she's a right kind one, jist as we've always known."

The other chuckled and picked up the line with an eerie smoothness. "And yea know what they say aboot th’ kind ones."

"Hell have mercy on their enemies, 'coz they'll suffer enough when their friends get ahauld of 'em. We're ‘ere for yea, lass. We've ne’er let harm come to ye yit, and if we have our way, it ne’er will."

"And we will have our way."

She looked up at them through her tears and felt safe; just as safe as she did under Celestia's wing. "Thank you. All of you."

That got smiles all around, even from Celestia, and although Twilight couldn't see it from her position, she could feel it.

"All right, enough ah' thes mooshy stuff," the one on Twilight's right said. "Come on then!"

The two earth ponies walked up to either side of her and lifted her up. "Up ye go!" the other said, supporting her adrenaline-crashing body.

Twilight giggled a bit, pleased that these military ponies were far more personable than Celestia's stoic honor guard. "Are you one pony or two?" she asked, jokingly and through a deep yawn.

"Aye, we're two. Yer not seein' double, lass," the one on her left said.

The one on her right picked up the conversation. She was starting to notice a pattern and she wasn't yet sure if it was endearing or annoying. "And before ye ask, nae, we're not brothers, though no one believes us. Tha's Double Blind ower there, and nae, he's not blind, althoogh some here might disagree with that."

Sure enough, the left continued. "And tha's Feint Indication. Feint as in ruse, althoogh don't use ‘at phrase aroond th’ real Ruse or she'll burst ye wit ‘at nasty telekinesis ah hers. Lest time we sparred ‘er TK sent me right throogh a wall!"

Feint gave two short, hard laughs at that. “An’ intae th’ mares’ locker room!”

“Wasn’t mah fault! And Ah was too concussed tae remember anythin’ anyways.”

"How do I tell you two apart?" Twilight asked while giggling, finally recovering from her shock.

"Tha's simple," Feint answered. "Ah'm th’ good looking one!"

"Says whit now? Yea look like a dragon rearranged yer face!"

"Och aye, but Ah've got a mighty fine arse."

Double Blind's eyes widened in panic as he leapt to cover Feint's mouth with a hoof. "FEINT! Nae in front ay th’ princess!"

Celestia chuckled a bit. "It's ok, I don't mind."

Intelligentsia regained her professional composure after face-hoofing at the jokes. "So it's confirmed that our charge has begun her ascension?"

"Yes, it is. We'll proceed mostly as planned, but there's an earth pony in the castle's mess hall that knows too much to let loose for now. I'd like a security detail placed on her to keep her safe and in secured areas. She's an Element of Harmony, Honesty in this case, hence the extra measures. Also, let's see if we can't get her farm some help since she won't be there for it. We can go ahead and tell her family that she's safe and doing something for me, but leave out that she's at the castle."

Intelligentsia bowed. "Understood.”

“Princess, I need to ask you something.” Twilight’s stance was unusually straight, even challenging, though she didn’t feel it happening and Celestia didn’t react.

“Of course, Twilight.”

“How is publicizing my power going to make me less of a target? I mean, I appreciate that you feel I’m ready for this, but I’m going to feel like Rainbow put a ‘kick me’ sign on my back again. If any of these so-called assassins have any clue that unicorns can ascend, they’re going to know what’s up the instant this is announced.

“And that’s another thing. I can defend myself reasonably usually but I’m not good enough to fight like my predecessors. Ponies will see through this façade in an instant. Even if they’re exceptionally thick, all they’d need to do is ask somepony that knows me. My telekinesis is strong, but that’s about it. This all feels like a really bad idea.”

"Och, she's standin' up tae th’ Princess now. She'll be a real alicorn before yea know it," Feint said through somehow accented laughter.

The sound Twilight emitted at that statement was somewhere between an embarrassed squeak and a terrified shriek, and she ducked back down again to make herself tiny, closed her eyes and covered her head with her hooves. "Oh heavens, I really was disrespecting the princess! And she was trying to honor me! I'm going to get banished for sure now. And​what​if​she​doesn't​banish​me​to​the​moon​what​if​it's​farther​away!​Wait​what​if​it​isn't​even​in​Equestria!?​What​if​it's​a​new​plane​of​existence!?"

Somewhere in the back of Twilight’s mind, she could tell that Celestia was looking at her with a strange curiosity that at first bordered on incredulity and eventually turned into an exhausted humor. That thought was too far away from her to be paid any due attention, however. She also didn't quite fully grasp that she was using her internal voice externally as she continued to ramble onward to more and more implausible destinations.

Twilight Sparkle!”

Twilight found a way to cringe down even harder, steeling herself for being sent to the eternal plane of shellfish, which she wasn't sure really existed but she suspected Celestia might make just to send her there.

“You slept a little after our meeting. Before that, how long were you up working on this new spell of yours?”

“Oh, not that long, I—”


“I’m getting used to going without sleep, so, four days, give or take.” Twilight didn’t think she could shrink herself down any further.

“I assume, during that time, you had little food or water?”

“Well, I did have those hay fries and a few cherrychongas...” She was wrong, she got smaller, which also seemed to make her voice get higher.

“Over the course of four days?”

Twilight couldn’t help but think that squeaking wasn’t really becoming of the Grand Mage; she’d have to stop that.

Celestia sighed. “Twilight, it’s ok.”

It wasn’t until now that she noticed the war room didn’t seem to exist anymore. The ground didn’t exist anymore. All around her was just a wall of glowing light, mostly gold with some areas of pink. It kept getting brighter, and it was nothing but comforting. Maybe nopony heard the squeaks.

Twilight and tried to regain her composure. “I’m sorry, Princess. I was just—”

“I know, I know. If it’s any consolation, in the future this won’t matter so much. Alicorns, once fully grown, do not need sleep or food. Nor water or air, for that matter. Right now, though, I need you to be at your best. That means real sleep, real food. Once we’ve taken care of that, Luna can train you.”

“Luna, Princess?”

“Yes, Luna. I know being a Grand Mage makes you a tempting target, so Luna will show you how to truly defend yourself. Like I said, there is no more fearsome fighter. I wish she had been able to be there for your brother’s wedding. Queen Chrysalis would have learned that day exactly why my Luna was once called ‘Nightmare Moon’.”

Sleep was quickly reclaiming Twilight, as her eyelids weakened and dropped a little. Maybe rest was a good idea. “I understand, but they’ll still come after me!” A yawn interrupted her. “Do you really think this is safe?”

“Little about a Grand Mage’s job is safe, Twilight, but I do believe you will be able to handle it. Moreover, most should relent and leave you be once they see what my new Grand Mage can do. Few among even these groups have a death wish. Intelligentsia will deal with the rest. Now, go back to sleep, and get a meal when you wake.”

The light shined brighter and a sleep spell hit her like a freight train, sending her to dreamland so fast that Luna would probably hear the 'thud' of her arrival, and if there had been ground under her, a regular thud might have also applied.

There was something different and special about wild weather. It was bigger, with stronger winds and magnificent formations only brought about by random chance. Between the more distant towns and cities of Equestria, giant anvil-shaped thunderstorms roamed the plains whenever the conditions were just right.

These large types of wild storms were extremely dangerous, however. Ponies almost always sought to avoid them, whether on the ground or in the skies. The few that did approach were either trained to destroy them before they arrived in populated areas or were daredevil thrillseekers with a bit of a deathwish. Or, in Rainbow Dash’s case, both.

Even miles away the storm she had been watching looked like a true monster, soaring over 21,000 meters into the air with an updraft punching a semi-spherical dome into the tropopause. Very few ponies ever attempted flying that high, and fewer still survived it. Oxygen becomes limited beyond even what pegasi could tolerate, and the wind shear is incredible. Standing on top of an anvilhead was impossible; one only got dragged along it with the wind.

In comparison, the small puffy cloud Rainbow was sitting on was just bigger than a bed, and perfect for stretching out on. Cloudsdale was a distant memory at this point, with Canterlot a few hours’ journey ahead. If the thunderstorm hadn’t been on track to miss the capital, it’d likely have been torn down already. Such a shame really, it was one of the few natural sources of beauty Rainbow could slow down and appreciate for what it was. Very, very few ponies could build them as well as nature.

Rainbow fished into her pocket and pulled out the decree. It was certainly official, the Celestial seal and everything. She wondered what rank she’d have once the transfer was made. It was doubtful a hot dog like her would keep the rank of “captain”, which, unlike the rest of the military, was the highest rank in both the Wonderbolts and the Guard.

“You there! This airspace is restricted!”

Rainbow blinked in slow motion again at the disturbance, then sat up and peered over the cloud to see two military pegasi in gray armor.

“At ease, fellas!” she yelled back, sitting up over the cloud and showing off the emblems on her jacket. “I’m military too, and I’m here on official business.”

The two strange ponies looked at each other. “He didn’t say anything about her being here…” the right one said.

The other flew up above her and pointed. “You’re coming with us.”

Rainbow held up the transfer decree. “Sorry, boys, I got higher orders. This is from Princess Celestia herself, so unless you-hey!”

The high flying pegasus fired lightning from his wings and destroyed her transfer decree with barely enough time for Rainbow to leap up out of the way and into a hover.

“Do you have any idea what you just did!? That was an official decree from the Princess! You don’t just up and destr-hey!” She dodged another bolt, this one aimed at her head. “Oh you wanna play this game? Fine!”

Rainbow Dash spread her wings fully and sent magic down her feathers, taking flight with a rushing boom towards the thunderstorm as the two gave chase. Okay, so these two know how to fly, and the lightning means they have military training. Let’s see how brave they are.

She amped up the power in her wings to boost her speed, and looked back to find the surprise that not only were they keeping up but one was closing the distance like a bullet. A Wonderbolt trick saved her at the last instant as she altered the air currents around her to jolt herself to the left and dodged the grasp of the impossibly-fast pony. As she watched him fly by, she noticed a magic blue field emanating from his armor. He’s not faster than me - he’s cheating! Alright Rainbow, let’s show’em how a Wonderbolt flies!

She corrected her flight back to the thunderstorm and turned on her own lightning as smoke and rainbow-colored cracks of light spread out behind her. The other pegasus made another attempt to grab her by using that strange blue light, but she deftly dodged it and sent him into her stream of smoke and lightning. An unexpectedly bright blue light erupted behind her, and she made a sharp turn in case the other one was trying to grab her. Instead, she saw the pegasus that was attacking her falling right out of the sky leaving his own trail of smoke behind him. He must have been hit by her lightning trail.

She was about to ponder whether to save him when the other pegasus rushed towards her with the same blue magic. Dodging again but missing him with her lightning, she broke away and put even more power into her wings. Reaching the storm, she circled around and up its edge in a spiral, feeling the tip of her wing cut into the towering cloud as she climbed ever higher into Celestia’s sky.

She watched as the other pegasus circled around in a huge arc for another pass. Clearly, whatever trick they had gave them speed, but at the cost of not being able to turn quickly. She might be able to simply outrace them with a sharp turn and a rainboom, but that wouldn’t be fitting enough for this one.

It was then that she realized could probably just fry him in an instant with a bolt of her own; the lightning they were using was vastly inferior to what she and the other Wonderbolts could summon. It was originally meant to be a weapon instead of a spectacle, and most military pegasi could use it along with cutting wings, but it was still a somewhat strange thought to use it as a weapon so casually. This was in spite of all her training. In truth, she could probably take on a dozen of these guys easily, and if she was actually facing a dozen of them she probably would have used her lightning from the start. That having been noted, these two weren’t really much of a true threat. Plus, firing at the Captain of the Wonderbolts and frying a royal decree needed a special level of humiliation. Zapping them with lightning just wouldn’t do for that.

As the pegasus made another grab for her, she shifted the wind patterns again and dove right into the storm. Rain and hail started to pelt her as the extreme winds within the storm boosted them through her own magic currents, and her coat was soaked almost instantly. She quickly silenced her lightning trail as the sky around her rapidly changed from gray to dark blue with wild lightning crackling all around her. Deeper into the storm she plunged, changing her direction every so often to fool the idiot behind her. She could see the blue light from his armor streak wildly in the wrong direction, right towards the downdraft of the storm where he would no doubt be slammed into the ground in the storm’s rain shadow. Turning away from her attacker, she pushed herself towards the strongest upward winds as she hunted for the storm’s powerful updraft.

Punching through to the center of the storm, she felt a relatively warm and extremely strong blast of air from underneath her wings, and she shot straight up the center of the storm like a rocket as she spread out her primary feathers and brought all of her power to bear. Wind, wings, and magic combined to launch her up and out of the top of the storm in the largest rainboom she’d made to date.

Fierce winds stronger than any she could hope to counter knocked her out of her climb and she began to fall. This was alright, though, as it was all part of the plan. She angled herself towards Canterlot and breathed deeply to keep up her oxygen as she used the wind and gravity to enter a new phase of acceleration.

The downward pull plus her magic not only quickly got her to safe breathing altitude but also sent her rocketing towards Canterlot and well away from any jerkwad pursuers. No more breaks this time. She was now on a nonstop flight to the castle, with a rainboom scheduled to mark the arrival of the most awesome pegasus in Equestria.