Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Brand New Heights, Same Old Lows

This chapter is dedicated to my friend Jon, who recently passed away from a rare form of cancer. He was the kind of person who would grace our role-playing group with a true Paladin, for when he left the table, he didn't leave high ideals behind: kindness, laughter, and understanding. He will be truly missed. This one’s for you, Jon. Rest in Peace.

“Well then,” Luna said, stretching casually. “It seems my lesson for Twilight has ended for the evening. ‘Tis just as well, I’m afraid raising the moon sapped much of her wellspring.”

“Yeah, no kidding. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.” Spike threw his hands in the air in mock defeat.

Rainbow nodded, and stretched out as if she was just waking up from one of her signature power naps. “Doing the work of a few hundred ponies? I can’t say I’ve done that much at once, only a few dozen. But yeah, I get it. Our little egghead is something else.”

Applejack looked at her two friends, then scuffed the ground with a forehoof.

“Is something wrong, Applejack?” Luna asked, a pleasant, welcome smile not unlike her sister’s inviting her inquiry.

“Uh, wellspring, Princess?” Applejack asked.

Rainbow nearly snorted. “It’s a pony’s magic source. Like a battery. Come on, even I know that.”

“Oh! That makes sense, I suppose. Must be mighty drainin’. Didn’t know unicorns were batteries.”

Luna shook her head. “You misunderstand, Applejack. All ponies have wellsprings which produce magic. The different tribes simply have different types of magic, which are pushed to different parts of their bodies by their leylines.”

Applejack gave the Princess a blank stare.

“You may think of leylines like arteries of magic. I am surprised they did not teach this to you in school.”

The farm pony lowered her head in deference, and perhaps a little shame. “No ‘fense, Princess, but I was homeschooled. There weren’t no school in Ponyville when I was a filly. Applebloom was the first to get a real education.”

“Really?” Spike scratched his head. “What about Rarity? I thought she got her cutie mark making costumes for a school play.”

“Nu-uh.” Rainbow interjected. “Rarity won’t tell you this unless you ask her point-blank, but she’s not from Ponyville. She moved there after I did. Her family is from a town that could just barely be called a ‘far-off Whinnyapolis suburb’. She only moved to Ponyville ‘cause she couldn’t afford Canterlot back then. Her parents moved a little closer later on.”

Spike snapped his fingers in realization. “That explains her parents’ accent!”

“Not just theirs,” Rainbow leaned in, grabbing the dragon with a foreleg. “If you really get her angry, like when I replaced all her fabrics with light green bedsheets, Rarity will slip into it. Her ‘normal’ accent is fake. She learned it trying to get into the Canterlot marketplace. Heh. That’s how I found out. Good ol’ epic prank number eighty-seven.”

“Sad to say, I feel that shedding her old accent in favor of a Canterlot one was a prudent measure. Some ponies in this city are, well, I shan’t go on, or I might not stop.” Luna shook her head. “Well then, in lieu of a rant, shall we all have dinner together in the Gardens? Their beauty goes so unnoticed at night, and I would love for you all to see it under my, or should I say, Twilight’s moon?”

“Heh. Like you need to convince me to eat dinner.” Spike chuckled.

“I’m with the dragon.” Rainbow started a hover. “You comin’, AJ?”

The farm pony slowly walked up into the now-moving group. “Um, yeah, I suppose I could eat. Wouldn’t be polite to turn down an invite from the Princess, now would it?”

“I have to admit, this is really nice! Reminds me of th’ orchard.” Applejack pranced just a tad as she made her way around the gardens with her friends, letting the grass scrunch under her hooves. It was the only place in the castle where she could feel like herself.

“Ah, here we are.” The Princess rounded a corner, leading them to a clearing already set up with a picnic blanket. “Gentlecolts, if you would be so kind.”

The few butlers that had been following them went to work quickly, refreshing the blanket and lighting a few candles. They even pulled out a couple bottles of wine and quickly served them each a glass. The next things they brought out were a bit odd, however, as an easel and an unfinished painting were set up, along with a brush and palette.

“Princess, you paint?” Applejack asked.

“Indeed! You see, dear Applejack, we alicorns like to take on certain talents and aspects that we feel fit with our titles. I am not merely the mistress of the moon, stars, and night, but of art as well. That includes painting, poetry, all kinds of art.” She took a long sip of wine, resting the glass on her lips for a moment. “Of course, being an alicorn also lets me drink like a fiend. I’m honestly surprised my drinking didn’t get me before I gained earth pony magic to heal from it.”

Applejack blinked.

“Um, Equestria to AJ? You there?” A cyan hoof waved in front of her eyes.

“Sorry ‘bout that.” The farmer swallowed. “I suppose I just never really thought of Yer Majesties bein’ earth ponies too.”

Luna put on a warm smile. “Indeed. We embody the properties of all three tribes. In fact, come here, and look closely.”

The Princess got up and put a hoof in the grass, just off of the blanket. Applejack scratched her head in response.

“Look closely at the grass around my hoof.”

Rainbow and Spike got up and leaned down with Applejack, to which the earth pony breathed an internal sigh of relief. At least she wouldn’t look silly on her own. She looked, but it didn’t seem to be any different from plain old grass.

“It just looks like grass,” Spike blissfully said so she wouldn’t have to.

“Keep looking,” Luna replied, and a very faint glow enveloped the ground around her hoof.

Then, Applejack saw it. The grass was growing! Right before her eyes, she could see it actually grow! Heh. Watching grass grow. Never thought that’d be exciting. Earth pony farmers like herself used the same magic; it was what allowed them to harvest apples multiple times per year instead of just once. This, though, was very far beyond a few extra harvests. If they wanted it, the Princesses could be the best farmers in history.

“Whoa!” Rainbow hovered a bit over the spot. “I knew earth ponies could grow plants by like, caring about them, but I’ve never watched it happen!”

“Alicorns are, by their very definition, the embodiment of all three races. Although both Tia and I were born unicorns, ascension graced us with the other tribal aspects, giving us insight into their existence.”

She took a long sip of wine. “When we finally defeated Discord after centuries of fighting, we were left with a broken, shattered world. Think of it. No homes, no clean running water. Roads were dirt paths trodden by our ponies, and the lingering chaos magic meant they sometimes literally changed where they led, if they led anywhere at all. We were living wild again.”

“Over years, decades, and even centuries, we searched for and gathered our scattered ponies into the nation you see before you. We did all we could to care for all our ponies, and we will continue to do so for all our lives. In you all, we see your ancestors. What we - and more importantly, they - had to go through, no matter their tribe.”

Applejack gave a slight bow. “I never heard about all that. Thanks, Princess. I know some of us earth ponies don’t really get all that you do for us, but the Apples do. It means a lot.”

“No thanks are needed, but I shall accept nonetheless.”

Rainbow opened her mouth as if she was going to say something, then closed it, going back into a ponderous posture. She looked quite concerned.

“Is something wrong, Rainbow?” Spike asked.

“Yes, I’ve not seen you make that face before, Rainbow.” Luna began to look concerned too. “Tell us, what is troubling you?”

Rainbow tapped a forehoof on her chin, then sighed. “Luna, Princess…” she trailed off for a second.

“Come now, Rainbow! I can assure you, I am not nearly as easy to anger as rumors suggest. Feel free to speak your mind.”

The pegasus gritted her teeth, breathing through them. “Princess, are you faster than me?”

A pin dropping could’ve sounded like an explosion in the moment following the question. Yet Rainbow didn’t let up.

“If you’re some super-powered earth pony, wouldn’t that make you a super-powered pegasus too?” Rainbow reasoned. Applejack had to admit, it made sense.

Luna bowed her head. “Yes, Rainbow. I am faster than you. Much faster. Tia is faster still.”

Rainbow dropped her head in what looked like a half bow and half being stabbed in the chest.

Luna shrunk down a little. “I am sorry, Rainbow Dash. Please, I wish to continue being your friend. I could not lie to you!”

Rainbow held up a hoof. “I’m alright. I appreciate the honesty. It’s just… damn hard to hear that. I’ve always been the ‘fastest pegasus’. Turns out it’s a bucking lie.”

“Rainbow!” Applejack yelled under her breath. “Watch that tongue!”

“I forgive her,” Luna quickly interceded. “Truly.”

“Yeah,” Spike agreed. “I mean, it’s gotta be rough after all that work, going from first to fourth like that.”

“Third.” Rainbow snapped. “Nopony else is faster! Only the Princesses! I can at least live with that.”

Spike shook his head. “Remember what Twi did in the dining room?”

Rainbow froze in shock for a second, twitched first her eye, then a hoof.

Spike sighed, then elaborated. “Since pegasus magic comes out via the spine and wings, that’s just with what magic her spine could use. As soon as she gets wings…”

Now her feathers were twitching (or perhaps buzzing). Applejack wasn’t aware that they could do that.

Luna swooped in, stretching forelegs and wings around the pegasus. “It will be okay.” Her words were almost echoing, but in an astonishingly soothing manner. “Neither Tia nor I speak much about our speed or true power. We cannot. It must be hidden, so our ponies will not become dependent on us. It is our wish, our joy for them to strive for their own excellence, as you have. As I know you will continue to. Please, do not be upset. If it is some comfort, know that you are still the fastest ‘true’ pegasus. I—”

Rainbow started to struggle and freed herself from the Princess’ grasp, or rather, was released. “I know, I know all that,” she stammered, somewhat inelegantly rushing away from Luna. “I’ll be fine, really. I just… I just need to get some air time. I’ll talk to you all later.”

“Rainbow!” Luna yelled, but it was too late. The pegasus was already up and away. The Princess looked forlornly at Applejack. “I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“I wouldn’t sweat it too much, Princess.” Applejack kept her head down a bit on instinct, but tried to make her voice as reassuring as she could. “Rainbow always bounces back from stuff like this. It just takes her time is all, and I know she’d never blame ya.”

“I pray you are right, Applejack. Truly.”

A flurry of activity emerged from the hedges as a few butlers rushed in with sandwiches and other small edibles. Applejack mused at how the kitchens must have panicked over something a princess would expect to be served quickly, even if it was something so simple. At least she wasn’t with them this time!

“Well, it seems our dinner has arrived. A bit less delicious than it would have been with another friend, but here all the same. Shall we?”

Luna was right. It would’ve been better with Rainbow there, and it seemed like there was a figurative cloud hanging over the alicorn’s head.


The orange mare stood up straight at the mention of her name, though her nerves made her muscles shake ever so slightly from the Princess’ tone.

“I have something to ask of you, but before I do, know that you are completely free to refuse. In fact, I will not be upset if you say no. Nor will there be any repercussions, and I won’t think less of you.”

Luna paused, and took in a long, deep breath; one great enough for Applejack to realize that the Princess made even Big Mac’s freakishly-large lungs look downright reasonable.

“I would like you to be Twilight’s second Honor Guard. I know you don’t have military experience, but you are strong and we can give you some training and advanced armor to aid you. I think having you along would help Twilight tremendously.”

Applejack twitched and squirmed nervously. She was being put on the spot in the most uncomfortable manner possible. She prided herself on being dependable, but here there were two groups she had to be dependable to, and they were mutually exclusive. Going with Twilight meant abandoning her family at their most vulnerable, seeing as their newest member was pregnant. On the other hoof, staying home with them meant leaving a fledgling goddess to fend for herself in her darkest hours.

Applejack reached for the only answer that had served her well throughout her life: family.

“I’m sorry, Princess, but I can’t just leave my family. With Granny gone, I can’t just take off. One season like this would be one thing, but ten years? No, I… I just can’t do that to them. ‘Specially Fluttershy.”

Luna’s sad look was almost unbearable, but a short nod indicated acceptance.

“I’ll do it.”

The two mares slowly turned to look at their purple friend.

“What? I said I’ll do it. She needs me, she always has.” Spike rose to his feet, his greater height and strength giving him a more mature look than either were used to. He was normally always so relaxed in how he carried himself, but now he looked almost… formidable. “If Twilight’s in trouble, I’ll be there to help. No matter what.”

Luna tilted her head much like Twilight when in thought. “Hmmm… I appreciate the offer, Spike, but I don’t think Twilight is going to much care for me sending her baby dragon into battle.”

“Baby dragon, adult pony.” Spike replied, defiantly crossing his arms.

Luna’s eyebrow raised up. “True, you would be old enough for military service as a pony. That’s actually a compelling argument, but I still don’t think Twilight would… like…” Luna turned her head with a snap and squinted, scratching her chin a little before a devious grin started to creep onto her face.

“Spike, it occurs to me that a Grand Mage will be quite busy, and as such she will need someone to assist her. Someone that knows their quirks and needs inside and out, and can follow them wherever they go. I can think of no other better suited than you.”

“Well well!” Spike grinned and took a bow. “Happy to be of service!”

“What made ya change yer mind, Princess?” Applejack asked.

“Dragon mail!” she exclaimed. “Spike’s ability to send messages to Celestia over vast distances will be an unimaginable help for keeping in touch. There are limitations to the spell, but it would be immensely helpful regardless. Also, Spike, you might need to stay behind the scenes or hide for missions needing discretion, since a dragon would attract attention, but otherwise you would be a monumental asset to the team.”

“Glad to be aboard!” Spike raised his hand up to Applejack and she gave it a bump with her hoof. He really was growing up.

“Don’t celebrate just yet,” Luna warned. “It’s ultimately Twilight’s decision, and she’s going to be protective of you. Very protective. We’ll need to be careful with how we word the request, but I think she can be convinced.

“Also, we should get you some armor. That’ll have to be custom made; last I checked there aren’t any standard suits of armor for young dragons. This might require some political finesse, too, but I can handle it. Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

Spike just folded his arms and shot her a confident look.

Luna’s grin widened. “Okay, fair enough!”

Rainbow Dash flapped her wings as she kept up the beat with her fellow fliers. A Wonderbolts formation was directly below her. Spitfire was leading the formation; Rainbow was really only tagging along. Granted, most of the time any pegasus attempting to do this would be either arrested or left in the dust, but being a former Captain had its perks. Perks which she fully intended to take advantage of, especially after this night’s revelations.

“Oh yeah,” she cooed. This was bliss. The wind blew its way around her body, peeling off her troubles with its soothing force. With perfect memorization, she pulled up and kicked her rear hooves out, then pushed with magic in the other direction to execute a perfect pinpoint turn. A shiver rattled its way from the very tips of her ears and went all the way down to her tail. “This is more like it.”

Yaw left, right, roll and pull up. She knew all these moves by heart, and they weren’t even show moves. Not these ones, anyway. Shows for the foreseeable future were cancelled as the Wonderbolts were called into active duty. At least she’d get to practice military drills with them a bit in this glorious night air.

Through one of the barrel rolls she spotted a lone Wonderbolt sitting on a cloud watching them: Soarin. She banked hard out of the formation - she was just tagging along anyway - and dove down to join him. It felt kind of surreal seeing him back in the flight suit while she was only in a retired captain’s jacket.

“Hey,” she greeted him.

“Hey,” he replied.

This was going to be awkward for a while.

“Whatever you do, girl, don’t think about that trick he can do while flying. You’ll fall off the cloud laughing,” she thought to herself.

“So…” she said.

“Yeah,” he said.

If Twilight ever invented a device that could calculate levels of awkward, she could probably set its maximum to this right here.

“Wait a minute,” thought Rainbow. “I’m Rainbow Danger Dash. I don’t do awkward!”

“So what’s the deal with you being ‘happy’ with retirement? I thought you went off to do private shows in the tropics or something,” Rainbow demanded.

“Um, yeah, I went to the tropics for private shows…”

The awkward was still off the scales, but this time it was decidedly on one end. Rainbow had an idea on how to pull out the source.

“Private shows for who?” she asked, deliberately leaving the question open ended. Soarin was famous within the Wonderbolts for finding outs both in the sky and in conversation. Making him provide details would leave him less able to maneuver.

“Well… ponies I’d meet. The ones that looked interesting.”

Bingo, Rainbow knew exactly what was up now.

“You mean the ones with sweet flanks?”

“… yes.”

“Ha! I knew it! You weren’t just ‘putting on private shows’, you were chasing tail!”

Soarin looked down at his hooves, dejected. “… sorry.”

Something here did not entirely compute for Rainbow, which in turn further did not compute because she thought she knew Soarin fairly well at this point.

“Um? What? Why sorry? Sounds like you had a great time! Hell of a way to retire. I suppose I can see why you wanted to stay with that.”

Soarin lifted his head a little toward his left. “You’re not mad?”

“Why would I be?”

Soarin gave an uncharacteristic flop on the cloud and laid down. “Thank Celestia. I thought you’d hate me.”

“Um, hello? We broke it off! I wouldn’t be mad at you even if you were chasing mares all over Equestria! ‘Former Wonderbolt’ does wonders for finding bedmates… or so I’ve been told.”

Soarin let out one soft chuckle. “I should’ve known I was just being worrisome. I’m like that.”

“Yeah, yeah you are. I’m really not mad, Soarin. I’m glad you had a good time. Wait…”

Soarin looked back up at her.

“You aren’t still, you know, in love with me, were you?” Rainbow winced a little as she said it. They’d broken it off, so she was morally in the clear, but she still didn’t like being disloyal.

“I thought so. Celestia, I thought so for the longest time. But I don’t think I ever was, and that left me feeling more guilty than anything. I’m so, so sorry.”

Rainbow thought this over for an instant, but ultimately couldn’t find anything to object over. “Meh!” she yelled, laying down on her back to stare at the sky. “So it didn’t work out. Big deal. At least we had some fun.”

A genuine laugh of relief poured out of Soarin’s lips. “That we did. I owe you so much, Rainbow.”

Rainbow went wide-eyed and rolled over on her side. “Owe me? If anything, I owe you. Your recommendation for the captaincy, even if I hated it. All those private lessons. Heh. All those private lessons. And I did find out about your recommendation for letting me join the Wonderbolts in the first place. Secrets in the unit don’t stay secret long from the Captain, you know.”

“Even less so their second-in-command and his closeness to the unit. And no, I owe you. Without you, without us, I never would’ve figured this out.”

Rainbow rolled back over and sat up. “Figured what out?”

Soarin chuckled. “That I’m a lousy womanizer. It’s not for me. Losing you meant figuring out that I needed somepony, just one somepony, to be with. Yes, you may laugh now.”

Rainbow Dash did laugh, but only a little. “So that’s the big revelation? One of the biggest smooth-talkers in the ‘Bolts needs a ‘special somepony’ to feel complete?”

“Yeah, yeah, big ol’ ego pie, eat it up. Random mares just aren’t the same after you.” Soarin closed his eyes and braced himself a little.

Rainbow couldn’t help herself as she put her head right in front of Soarin’s and gave him her best seductive leer as he re-opened his eyes. “So you wanna find a cloud somewhere and do it?” she asked.

Rainbow expected him to either run or pounce her. He surprised her with his irritated face. “No, I don’t. I’m sorry, Dash, but I’m over you.”

While unexpected, she wasn’t about done teasing him. Rainbow leapt back and laid down on her back with a “poof” as cloud bits erupted and covered her. “That’s fine. I’ve already sworn my life to Twilight anyway.”

That seemed to get his attention. She didn’t even need to open her eyes as she laid back; she could hear it in his voice.

“What? You married her? Just like that?”

Rainbow tossed a ball of cloud at Soarin’s face. He didn’t even try to dodge.

“I didn’t marry her, Soarin. I’m her Honor Guard. The next decade or so, or really as long as she needs me, I’m hers.”

Soarin just looked at her confused for a moment.

“I meant militarily.”

“Oooohhh…” The ever-so-slight grin on Soarin’ face betrayed his understanding, and Rainbow pelted him with another bit of cloud.

Rainbow laid down on her back with her hooves in the air and relaxed. This was why she loved Soarin as a friend. This perfect banter and the level of understanding that could only be forged by fighting alongside someone. This knowing that you’re exposing your most ticklish of spots to someone and not caring as he forces you to empty the air from your lungs in giggles.

“My my, what do we have here? Shirking one’s duty to go play with a mare? This isn’t like you, Soarin… What am I saying, it’s exactly like you.”

Soarin stopped tickling her as they turned to look at Spitfire. Instinct and training told Rainbow to stand at attention, but her recovering lungs and knowledge of not being in the unit anymore let her muscles relax. She answered only to Twilight now, much like Luna’s Night Guard or Celestia’s Day Guard.

“Why, wanna join in?” Rainbow asked. That would’ve been insubordination when she was in the unit, and it felt good to let loose without the threat of rank over her.

Spitfire gave her a sultry glance that genuinely stunned Rainbow for a moment. Rainbow had forgotten just how aggressive and carefree Spitfire could be with her sexuality. “Don’t offer if you don’t mean it. Come on, Soarin, we’ve got a lot of work to do tonight.”

“Hey Spitfire,” Rainbow said before they had a chance to leave. Spitfire turned back to face her. “Sorry about the mess I left you.”

Spitfire smiled a bit and turned the rest of the way around, approaching her. “I’m assuming you didn’t mean just your desk,” she said.

“Yeah,” Rainbow replied, letting herself look sullen. “I can’t believe I didn’t realize how much harder leading the team was. Being the best flyer wasn’t enough.”

Spitfire smiled. “Don’t worry about it, it took me a long time to find my wings there too. Besides, Celestia’s expanding the size of the team so much it’s going to be filled with newbies anyway. Whole new bunch to train for military Wonderbolt service. Oh, one more thing.”

Spitfire grabbed her by the shoulders and smashed her lips against Rainbow’s, plunging her uncomfortably long tongue down Dash’s throat for a moment. When she broke it and left her, Rainbow was genuinely gagging a little.

“Until I’m dead and gone, you’re still second best. Remember that, Dashie!”

The force of their takeoff knocked Rainbow clean off the cloud.