Sure enough, Discord’s directions saw Twilight quickly catching up to Celestia’s tormentors, approaching them from behind. She stopped at the stairs leading up to the fight and caught her breath while hiding around the end of the stairwell. The atmosphere was uncomfortably hot, and the plants around her were beginning to burn. The grass at Celestia’s hooves was already consumed by flame. Step by step Celestia backed away from her attackers with her wings spread and rage barely contained in her eyes; the tips of her mane resembled fire more than an aurora. Another step saw one of her wing’s primary feathers barely make contact with a tree. The resulting flames and heat were so intense that the entire thing was consumed into nothing but ash in mere seconds. Her golden shoes and torc were so hot they were glowing. It looked as if they could literally melt off her at any second.
Twilight fretted as she pondered what to do. She didn’t have many spells entirely meant to attack things. Her armor would shield her from telekinetic lifts and attacks, and probably had all kinds of other abilities, but she didn’t know about them and didn’t have a chance to learn about them. Worse, soldiers got training to resist the very same telekinetic attacks. They wouldn’t need fancy armor to defend themselves against that. Even with complete surprise, simple blasts of energy would work at most once, and then she’d have the others on her.
She reached out with her mind, and could feel the charged magic of the unicorns around the corner. There were one, four, six regular unicorns, but they were hard to make out against the incomprehensible magical force that was Celestia. One other, though, was clearly stronger than the regular soldiers, if still dwarfed by the alicorn.
Peeking around the corner she confirmed what her horn was telling her. Seven soldiers, and one of them looked much older and quite strong. In fact, the regular soldiers looked nervous and scared and were taking defensive postures despite having the Princess against a wall. The one, though, was clearly looking for an opening. However, he was also standing much closer to Celestia than the others, so if she could figure out some way to get the others out of the picture they’d at least have a numbers advantage again.
An idea popped into her head. I’m really going to have to learn some new combat spells. I can’t keep relying on this.
She looked up above the battleground, but found no clouds to dive off of. The heat from Celestia must have evaporated them. She was going to have to pull this off while in free-fall. The question was, could she teleport high enough?
A unicorn’s magic could be measured in a lot of ways, but the kinds that most often mattered in a fight were how much they had, how much they could output at once, and how much they could control without it exploding before a spell could be cast. Twilight had good properties on all three, but still couldn’t output more at once than Cadence. She knew this would likely change as she grew, but right now she’d have to rely more on capacity and control.
She hid back around the corner of the stairwell and started summoning her magic. She always had a tendency to hold back when grasping huge quantities of it; this was a natural reaction to the thought of having a powerful spell explode during failure. If she wasn’t holding a lot of power, it couldn’t hurt her. Now wasn’t the time, however, and she struggled with her mind to allow her to build up as much power as she could before being noticed.
Brighter and brighter her horn glowed as she pushed more magic into it. Meanwhile, the atmosphere around her grew hotter and hotter. Princess Celestia must have been shielding her; increasing her own power to mask Twilight’s but also risking a real disaster. Still, this meant that the Princess trusted her; she couldn’t let her down now. With a final summons she reached deep into her soul and broke her mental limits in a bright flash of purple.
She didn’t have much time to hope they hadn’t seen that as she found herself well over two kilometers above the castle.
Her legs flailed as she tried to right herself. This had to be done right, and strangely, panic never entered her mind. Slowly, she started forming the white horseshoes on her hooves. This was made harder by the need to be on target. She had to form the horseshoes, steer herself towards the enemies, and prepare the teleportation spell again all at once.
The wind this high up above a mountain was fierce and repeatedly tried to throw her off course. If she had wings this would be much, much easier. The air buffeted her from different directions as she fell, twisting and turning her body to try to stay on a target she was too high up to fully see. Pieces of the horseshoes peeled off as she fell, and it took even more concentration to repair them.
About five hundred meters up she finally got sight of her target again and completed the spell. Leaning forward, she felt the air shift her course right for her target. The dots had all gathered in a circle, possibly to not be surprised by wherever she had been teleported to. One hundred meters up, it became clear to her that this would be the best favor they could have done her.
With a direct impact in the middle of the circle, she teleported at the last possible second and sent the enemies flying. Her ears rattled with the sound of thunder as the air came rushing back into where she wound up, soon followed by the tinkling sound of falling glass from shattered windows. She stood up slowly, finding herself in a crater larger than the last two, and took her time to pick her way out of it as the dust cleared.
When she pulled herself up, she recognized two sources of magic, one much more powerful than the other. As the dust cleared, one particular and very large gray pony was revealed as Celestia’s light shown behind him. Somehow, the big one had survived.
“Good show, Ms. Sparkle!” the traitor spoke. “I’d expect nothing less from somepony who’s supposed to be the next alicorn.”
Buck me, her internal voice yelled as confirmation that her enemies knew what was happening to her rolled across the lips of this towering hostile. Wait… That’s General Towers! The military is in on this?! No, not the whole military, or the attack would be much larger and we’d definitely have seen it coming. He must just have his own division, maybe even less than that.”
The General turned towards her and walked forward slowly but confidently. Twilight steeled herself to confront this thing that now threatened her. It was surprisingly easy. Her whole body called out for her to just attack, but she quelled it. There was still a chance to end this peacefully.
“General Towers, I recognize you. Fifth in a line of generals, hailed as a master of defensive tactics. Ruining your legacy to start a coup? Did Discord put you up to this?” The possibility was there but didn’t seem likely to her for some reason.
His laugh was almost as powerful as Luna’s, and strangely warm for a traitor. “No, no, nothing of the sort. I simply felt that it is time for stronger leadership. Leaders who can actually protect our citizens, rather than supposedly all-powerful alicorns that fail at it time and again. Many others have felt the same way, and a few have asked me to facilitate the transition. This has been coming for years. I just saw an opportunity to strike first.
“Now, that all said, it is a shame you weren’t in your tower, my dear. Unfortunately this means I have to perform this dreadful business myself.”
Twilight’s rage struggled to break free from her containment. She’d never felt anything like this before. The guards being killed today were ponies she knew. She was always kind to them and her majesty’s servants, and in turn they were kind to her. They liked her, she liked them, and this monster was killing them for his own ends.
Right then and there, her boiling rage and need to protect her ponies took over, and she decided that this monster wasn’t a pony anymore.
“Now then, it’d be a shame for one such as yourself to suffer. Please lie down. This will be over quickly.” General Towers was apparently a wordy one, not that Twilight was one to talk.
“I was about to say something similar to you, General.” Celestia startled both with her words, spoken in a perfectly calm, flat tone as the fire around her increased. “Twilight’s in her armor, and Luna is on the attack. Either one spells your doom; both just means it’ll be over much faster.”
“I’m immune to your mind control, Celestia. I would have thought that should be obvious by now. Moreover, since you haven’t attacked yet, it’s plain and obvious you realize I have the upper hoof. I intend to make use of that.” There might have been other words from Towers’ mouth after that, but Twilight didn’t hear it as a powerful explosive spell sent from his horn hit her on her side and shot her back and beyond the stairwell she was hiding behind. It felt like dying, despite whatever the armor might have done to lessen the blow.
She laid there, limp. Her body was reporting all manner of problems. She might even have had internal bleeding. Then, as quickly as the blast came, her vision became purple and the pain vanished as a flame enveloped her whole body. Slowly, she commanded her body to ignore the prior hit and rose to her hooves one at a time as her lungs heaved air in and out of her body.
At first, she thought the flames were the attack spell being dispersed, but now she knew. These were her emotions, expressed as the magic around her resonated with her heart and ignited the atmosphere. The waves of rage and devotion were more intense than anything she’d ever felt, save for her admiration of Celestia, and they were all coming to one final conclusion: Towers had just made his last mistake.
One hoof in front of the other, she turned. Hoof in front of hoof, she moved slowly up the stairs and back to the battle. As she did so, she could see out of the corner of her eyes that Celestia’s visage was calm and gazing at her, while Towers’ was slowly turning to her, his own face that of fear. A primal, natural fear. One that could only be seen when facing an angry alicorn, possibly even only while facing an angry alicorn that was on fire. Whatever technique he was using to resist Celestia, it clearly wasn’t working with her.
She hadn’t yet ascended, but her magic was much greater than Towers’. She could see that now. Her vision had changed into something else entirely. The ground was lit with damaged and eroded symbols, the wards of the castle eroded from the sheer pressure of Celestia’s magic. Lines of energy flowed around Towers as they sought out attacks; an impressive magical shield, but still far inferior to her brother’s. Strands of light and magic rushed into the air in the distance as magical attacks were set off by others in battle. Finally, just to the left of Towers was nothing but the burning, all-encompassing light; a luminary force beyond anything she’d ever witnessed. It was right there, but didn’t blind her or make her flinch. It only served as notice to the differences between alicorns and unicorns, or, at the very least, the difference between Celestia and Towers.
Her vision returned to normal as she pulled the magic back into her hooves, compressing and banishing the flames around her yet again with a modified spell to increase their effective mass instead of decrease it, all the while rushing towards the one causing her ponies so much pain. Towers levitated a spear toward her, but she knocked it away with an enchanted hoof. The spell activated at the moment of impact, and for an instant it gave her hoof as much mass as a large boulder, cracking the spear in two and sending the pieces flying.
She kept pressing the advantage of surprise and shock. The next hit came as she swung around to face the other direction and sent both rear hooves into his side. She barely even felt the resistance as her attack flew through it; the field had shattered the instant she made contact. Even his enchanted armor cracked and buckled from the blow, allowing almost all of the kinetic energy to be transferred right into Towers’ side. The strike sent the elder pony flying horizontally into the wall to force him to absorb a second impact on his opposite side, cracking not only his armor but the stone in the wall as well.
She quickly strode over to the body, only to realize the old coot was still breathing. “Time to fix that,” she thought, stomping her front left hoof on his shoulder, burning it with her spell and lighting her horn. She focused more and more power into it, making sure her next attack would work.
“Twily! Twily, what are you doing!?”
The voice was familiar but couldn’t be that important. Still, there was time to answer. “Ending this creature,” she replied with a voice she wasn’t quite sure was hers.
“Don’t do it, Twily! Please!”
A blue field appeared around the traitor as she stepped back. It was strong, and familiar, but she could get through it. Then she noticed the shape it was taking. A deep blue shield, with a purple star burst center.
“Shining?” she turned and felt the emotions die down, new ones taking their place. There he was, Prince Shining Armor, her brother, with eyes begging her to stop. She stopped her spell in its tracks, letting it fade safely.
“Yeah, it’s me, Twily! Calm down, you got him. We got ’em. They’re retreating. We won.”
She looked back down at the broken general and nearly lost a substantial portion of her lunch. She was about to utterly annihilate him. There wouldn’t have been anything left from that blast.
Her knees shook, and her constitution failed her as she dropped to the ground and started to cry, only noticing the warm aura of her mentor, accompanied by her even warmer voice.
“Yes, Twilight. That’s what I felt too. What all alicorns feel in such situations. Our ponies are precious to us, always. Things that try to hurt them, even when they are ponies themselves, get the focus of our unrivaled ire. I have to keep it in check more than anypony; it’s what summons my flames.”
Her response was whisper quiet, her vocal cords refusing anything greater. “I was going to kill him. I was going to kill them all.”
Her brother snapped her up in a warm embrace. She didn’t feel like she deserved it, but, at the same time, she couldn’t refuse it. She needed it, the nerves in her body were threatening to reject her stomach’s contents unless she took the comforting affection. “Hey, hey it’s ok Twily,” the most comforting non-princess being in the world said.
“How do you do it? How do you manage to keep your calm in the face of… of… all this? How can do you not go insane from it?” she asked through sobs.
Celestia took tentative steps towards her student. Though her regalia had stopped glowing, Twilight could still feel her radiant heat increase with each second she was getting closer. Even the air around her was distorted from the temperature. “Practice. Meditation. Now that you’ve experienced it, I promise you’ll find it easier to control from here on out.”
“Easier to control?!” She broke the hug and turned to her in a mix of anger and fear. “I don’t want to ‘control’ it! I don’t want it to happen at all! I almost killed somepony! How can anypony trust me? How could you trust me?!”
Celestia laid down in the charred grass, spreading ash into the air. “Because I’ve been there before. I know what it was like, what I was like, and I know you. I know you’ll be able to control it now that you know what you’re up against, and unlike me, you won’t burn everything just from feeling it. That’s a challenge only I am burdened with. Trust me, we will help you.”
Twilight stared at her intently. She was looking for something, but she wasn’t sure what. She gazed desperately into Celestia’s eyes, face, wings, body, anything that might give her the feeling of security she needed.
“Okay, I’ll trust you,” she finally said, while her mind kept worrying to itself. But is that just the submission instinct?
Celestia stood back up. “I know this is hard for you. After things settle I’ll give you a few days to simply rest and recuperate. I’m sorry for putting you through so much, but believe me when I say that encountering these emotions with experience can make a world of difference. Better yet, they won’t happen all the time for you until much later.”
An unpleasant and recent memory sprang to life in Twilight’s mind. “Princess! Discord! After I saved Cadence he talked to me in the gardens, trapped me in some kind of spell!”
Shining raised a hoof to his head. “Discord!? Please tell me you’re joking…”
“Heavens Above! Did he hurt you?” the sun mare asked.
“He said he wanted to help me. Told me to keep calm, then let me out. Even gave me directions here.”
The white alicorn sat down and lit up her horn while spreading her wings. Twilight could feel a pulse of magic spread out from the Princess’ horn, and after a moment she could see Celestia exhale in relief as her wings folded back up.
“It’s ok, he’s still sealed. The wards around him just weakened a little, probably from the fighting. I’ll deal with it later.”
“That’s kinda what he said you would do,” Twilight said without thinking.
“Yeah, he said to tell you so you and he could have a ‘chat.’”
Celestia raised a hoof to her mouth for a moment, then put it back down and stood up. “Then I’ll send Luna instead, but later. We have other things to worry about.”
“Tell me about it,” Shining said. “He went right for Twily’s tower. He must’ve known about the ascension. We need to find out how far this has spread.”
“He did,” Twilight said, solemnly, before blinking in realization. “Wait, you know about that too?”
Shining pulled her into another hug, causing her to lean over a bit uncomfortably. “Who do you think created the team in charge of protecting you? Of course I knew.”
That was right; the ponies in the war room knew, and her brother was Captain of the Royal Guard. He’d have the highest security clearance. She started to shed tears of happiness as he released her. Shining Armor, always there for her.
“Everypony okay over here?” That voice could only belong to the Captain of the Wonderbolts herself, which was confirmed when the source got out of the sun and landed. “I saw some magic flash over here and—Twilight?” The cyan pegasus took in the scene. “Whoa. Damn. Good job, Princess! This guy is a wall booger.”
Twilight’s lunch was now storming the gates of her esophagus, and it was a minor miracle it didn’t break through.
“Rainbow, that was Twilight,” Celestia said, flatly.
A loud whistle emanated from Rainbow just after her eyes moved back over to Twilight. “Remind me never to get in a fight with you, Twi.”
Another voice joined in as Luna arrived, flanked by six of her honor guard. “Sister! They broke into our private library! The first few bookcases near the front are empty!”
Celestia facehooved a little. “Did they get any others?”
“No, we caught them before they could get away with more. Two are still trapped inside, we’ve got them cornered.”
“At least they didn’t get the most dangerous documents in the back. Unfortunate though this is, we have other concerns right now. Luna, I need you to have two of your guards take that—” she pointed towards the still-breathing general, “—to the infirmary. I want him alive. Send the rest to find and protect Cadence. We can’t afford to lose her.”
She motioned at them and they went right to work. “Well, um, there was something else…” The tone of her voice had everypony looking at her in an instant. “The Elements of Harmony have been stolen!”
“What?!” The reply was universal.
The most powerful magical artifacts in history, locked away in the most secure and sturdy of vaults. Only once had it been penetrated, and that was by the god of chaos himself. Yet here the vault lay, crumbled to pieces by some unknown force, and its contents had been completely raided. This remained as a mystery to the two alicorns, the alicorn-to-be, the pegasus, and the unicorn.
“How could they have breached the vault? Nothing short of Discord could even get into this room, let alone just break it like this! This just isn’t possible!”
“I share your frustration, Twily, but right now those aren’t the questions we need to be asking ourselves.” Shining said.
Twilight stood silent for a moment, thinking with her jaw still dropped open at the destruction in front of her.
“Yeah, right now we need to be asking who I ought to be frying to get them back,” Rainbow concurred.
Celestia authoritatively strode from the side to the center of the room. “I believe, Rainbow, you mean to ask who took them and where, and maybe even why. Three more questions on top of a mountain of others.”
“‘Why’ is an excellent question.” Prince Armor’s voice was nearly as commanding as the Princess’s. “The Elements can only be used by their bearers, and even then don’t activate unless the situation is dire. If they were stolen, we have to consider and assume that whoever did take them had a need for them beyond merely depriving us of their availability.”
Celestia nodded in agreement. “This is true, and I’m certain we’ll find that out eventually. For now, though, we have other worries. Prince Armor, get the castle secured and capture any hostiles you can, then let the ponies of Canterlot know the situation is under control and get your shield up on the city. Call up military reserves while we’re at it.”
“On it, your highness.”
Shining always did have impressive speed with his long legs, but the quickness with which he ran off still surprised Twilight.
“Luna, send more guards to Ponyville, make sure all of Twilight’s friends are safe, and pay a visit to Discord. He had a little ‘chat’ with Twilight. Fix his seal.”
“Discord’s seal is weak?!”
Luna didn’t even run; she just disappeared. No flash, no smoke, not even the magical disturbance normally brought on by teleportation. I need to find out how she does that, Twilight thought.
“Captain Rainbow Dash?”
“Huh? Oh, right.”
That caught Twilight off guard, too. Why is she having her kneel? For that matter, shouldn’t Rainbow have arrived with her whole unit? How’d she even know to come?
With a snap, Celestia spread out her wings. “I need you to repeat after me. ‘For my life I hereby swear…’”
“For my life I hereby swear…”
This sounds familiar somehow… Twilight thought.
“‘My Sovereign’s will shall bind me’…”
“My Sovereign’s will shall bind me…”
This is the Honor Guard’s oath! Is she inducting Rainbow Dash into her Honor Guard? This doesn’t sound right…
“‘Through strength of body, will of mind, depth of soul…’”
“Through strength of body, will of mind, depth of soul…”
She can’t just rip Rainbow away from the job she loves! I’m going to have to protest this…
“‘For eternity I pledge all this to thee…’”
“For eternity I pledge all this to thee…”
Come on, Princess! Stop! Don’t make me argue with you at a time like this…
“Wait, what!?” The exclamation flowed from both mares, and the Princess didn’t miss a beat.
“Congratulations, Rainbow Dash. You are now the first member of our new Grand Mage’s Honor Guard. Traditionally, they get two, but you’re the only one I can think of that would be suited for her for now. Whenever she leaves this castle, you will go where she goes, do as she orders, and protect her with your life. Understand?”
Rainbow looked at Twilight and back at the Princess. “Umm… no?”
“Doesn’t matter. Twilight, fill her in and head to our private library once it’s clear. Go to the back wall. On a podium on the right, you will find three large books: one blue, one red, one green. Take them to Luna’s room and read them; they’ll be a, shall we say, abridged training of sorts for you until we have time to do it directly. Then, go to the War Room and ask your brother to fill you in. He’ll know what you’re talking about. I have to go and make sure civilization doesn’t collapse tonight.”
The white alicorn vanished in a burst of light, leaving two very confused ponies.
“What just happened?” asked the rainbow maned one.
“I think I know, but… I’ll explain on the way. Come on, we need to get to the Princesses’ library.”
“Foul creature. Can you hear me?”
Nothing. The statue stood still.
“Fine, that will make resealing you easier.”
“Oh, so it’s going to be like that? No lovely chat with Celestia? I’m disappointed.”
Ah, so it could indeed speak. Luna started the spell as she talked, walking slowly around the statue. “No, you get me this time. Honestly, I’ve been eager to finally speak to you behind your cage. You killed an awful lot of my ponies. Seems only fitting to taunt you a little.”
“Aha! Well, maybe this will be more fun than I thought. I always figured you for the stuffy type.”
Luna raised a hoof to her chest. “You insult me! I am the alicorn of the night! Romance, intrigue, mystery! I’m all the things too exciting for the day. Just because you have a hard time reading alicorn minds directly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think harder about your master, demon.”
“Master? Oh, that is rich! You are no master, my dear. Not like I know.”
“Hmm… ‘Not like you know.’ So you're saying you do have a master!”
“… You’re no fun anymore.”
“Ah, but it’s only now getting interesting. Celly really should have had me do your interrogation last time. This is certainly more information than we had before. So tell me, who is this master of yours, so I might trap him too?”
“Beyond your feeble understanding.”
“I suppose that’s enough of that topic for now. I’m much more concerned about what you told Twilight.” Luna turned her gaze back down to the ground, looking again at the forming seal and the purple symbols on the ground, arranged in a growing half circle.
“That little thing? I don’t know what you see in her, but I just gave her some friendly advice, that’s all.”
“It had better be just ‘friendly advice,’ or when I’m through with you, you’ll be begging me to put you back in this prison.”
“You? With me? Did we forget who we’re talking to?”
Luna chuckled a bit and added a few new symbols to the seal. “Did you forget what happened last time you got out? You were so weak you could barely take over Ponyville, and then some young mares shoved you right back in your cage like a lost little bird. The only reason Celestia didn’t incinerate you was because it’d hurt her ponies, and the only reason I didn’t destroy you was because I was still recovering from getting hit with the Elements myself. Had I been at full strength as I am now, I would’ve made you my plaything before crushing your head like a particularly distasteful melon. Remember that.”
“Ha! What’s to remember? You’re an amateur at this! Don’t try to get me angry enough to slip up, you miserable little brat. You got lucky once, but that will be it. Remember, I’m the only true immortal here.”
Drat, he saw through her attempt. Oh well, she could still insult him a bit. “Oh, you sound so angry, but your face looks so scared. Why, it looks like you might just be able to serve as a drinking fountain if we installed a little water pump.”
Silence answered her.
“What’s the matter? Silly little ageless mortal make you at a loss for words with her barbs?”
Still no response.
“Awww, and I was having such fun.” A bright flash at the ground and a complete circle signaled the completion of the spell.
“That’s it?” the voice returned. “One layer? Really? That’s what you’re putting me behind? Looks like you did forget who you’re talking to. Now it’s my turn to be insulted.”
“You and I never interacted much beyond fighting and sending armies at each other, so it makes sense you don’t know me well.” Luna got up to leave. “And Celestia was always the one guarding your seal. She would never dream of letting anypony else near you. I’m happy she let me do this, finally; it shows her trust.”
At a calm walk, Luna turned away from the statue as the sky went black and an almost evil grin surfaced on her face. “But it also means you’ve never been subjected to one of my seals.”
At her statement, the circle began to ripple outward, until thirteen glowing rings enveloped Discord. They repeated themselves into the sky again and again, growing every brighter and more powerful with each passing second. At last, they all came rushing down onto the statue. As the day came slowly creeping back into the blue canvas overhead, they connected together.
Luna put a small dance into her step. “Ah, sweet music.”