Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Mages of Times Past and Present

One teleportation later and they arrived in a forest clearing which was unnervingly familiar. They were deep in the Everfree, and the cries of unknown entities were clearly advertising the threats of the forest.

“Um, Princess? Is this it?” Twilight asked.

Celestia shook her head. “No, of course not, my student. But, I’m afraid teleporting us further into the forest isn’t possible. There’s too much corrupting magic. I could still perform very short range teleportation for us if need be, but any farther is too dangerous without some kind of powerful magic anchor or waypoint.”

Twilight swallowed a little. “So we walk?”

Celestia nodded. “Correct. There should be a path nearby. Also, do not worry about the creatures of the forest. While I might not be able to fight them with magic, few things even in the Everfree would dare approach an alicorn. Fewer still would stay long when I began to gather my power."

The two walked out of the clearing and into the thick of the infamous forest. As they got deeper in, even the light from Luna’s, or for tonight, Twilight’s moon, was being completely blocked out. Twilight lit her horn to provide light, but then extinguished it as a new source overwhelmed it. She turned toward her mentor and saw that her entire body was glowing radiantly, not just her horn. Streams of white magic flowed from her body and out into the forest, not only providing illumination, but causing certain plants, particularly flowers, to glow as well.


Celestia looked slightly away from Twilight with a hint of sadness. “Mmm. The last time I did this, I stumbled across a subject who had become lost in the woods. After rescuing and teleporting her back to Canterlot, she pledged to worship me for eternity, and ran off down the street screaming my praises. It was immensely awkward chasing her down to try to explain to her how I wasn’t a god.”

“I might’ve too, after that. You look beautiful!”

“Thank you for saying so, Twilight, but we must be mindful of the consequences of believing ourselves to be more than we are. Ah, here’s the path.”

Celestia used her larger body to power through the thick brush and onto a path, shaking off the leaves that had collected on her body. The brush was a bit taller than Twilight herself, and too thick for her to just push through as her mentor had. “Hmm…” She took a couple of steps back, and raced for the brush. Just before plowing into it, she jumped and tried to give herself a boost with pegasus magic. A fleeting sense of elation came and went as she soared over it and right into the brush on the other side of the path. Groaning in frustration, she pulled herself out and to where she had intended to be in the first place.

“It’s an awful lot like being a foal again, isn’t it? So many new things to learn.”

“So much awkwardness to relive…”

Celestia gave a polite laugh. “Yes, well, it can’t be helped, I’m afraid. Come, our destination shouldn’t be terribly far. While we walk, why don’t you tell me a bit about what you’ve learned from the books. Let’s start with Star Swirl’s.”

Ah, a test! If there was something Twilight could be completely confident in, it was her ability to talk about something she’d read. Maybe saving some grace would be possible here after all. Twilight started walking with her mentor, moving at a trot to keep pace with her longer legs.

“Well, I knew he was a brilliant mage with a wide range of abilities, and the book reinforces that, but I had no idea he had made such drastic discoveries in dimensional magic. It seemed to be his real specialty; I found magic in there I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Before finding out about the alicorn thing, I mean. But…”

“But?” Celestia glanced down at her after waiting a moment.

“He really was crazy, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, although I didn’t realize how much until it was too late. I’m curious, though, what exactly made you realize this?”

Her gait wavered a little as she prepared a response.

“It just came to me somewhere around page, well, three. He was obsessive, and I know I’m not one to talk, but he went so far and thought nothing of it. I have no idea what the rules were back then, but if I had done these same experiments today, I’d be arrested! Temporal paradoxes, high-risk spells being created in populated areas… He had a singular purpose at any given time, and nothing else mattered to him. Worse, he never explained anything! There were whole, complex spells in that book with absolutely no explanation. I can figure some of them out, like the half-dozen banishing spells to places with names like ‘The Hallows’ and ‘The Dark.’ But a lot of the others are using really antiquated magical script. It makes sense, since he practically invented it, but it still makes things vastly more difficult. So far I don’t know if some of them will light a candle or blow up Manehatten.”

Celestia nodded. “He did overuse that naming convention, didn’t he? And if it helps any, he hated explaining himself to me, too.”

“I wish he had explained himself better. Then maybe I could understand more than half of his ramblings at the end about how he’s going to get to ‘The After.’ He never said why he wanted to go there or what it was! I have a few guesses I really don’t want to believe, but they’re still just guesses because he never actually came out and said it! He just had a huge series of incomplete spell fragments scribbled all over the book. I’m… disillusioned. I knew history books glossed over some truths, but to read first-hoof about all the awful things he’s done…”

Celestia paused for a moment with a blank expression on her face before replying. “He was an important figure, Twilight, but you have to remember that a pony’s mental health and their intelligence aren’t the same thing. Had I been wiser during his life, I would have watched him more closely. With more warning, I might have been able to save him.”

Twilight shuddered. “What really, really scares me is how alike we are. We’re both single minded, we both get lost in our work, and if something goes wrong I collapse into a mess, and—”


She looked up at her mentor and melted a bit in the light of her kind expression, not to mention the light of her whole body, but still felt anxiety keeping hold of her shaking lungs.

“Trust me, my student. I knew him better than anypony else, and I know you as well. You have a good heart. I’ve long been grateful to the heavens for that. For all your nerves, they’re always about whether you’ve done well and been a good pony, and you’re always willing to admit a fault and learn from it. That’s an important lesson, and one that is difficult for many. Nopony is infallible.”

“Thanks, Princess. It gives me a bit of comfort to hear that coming from you.”

“I’m glad.” The two stopped just before entering an extremely dark area of the forest. Even Celestia’s light was getting drowned out by the oppressive darkness ahead, almost as if the shadows were able to feed on the light. “Pardon me a moment.”

Celestia dipped her head down and charged her horn, gathering golden light from the air around her. Little sparks that looked like ethereal gems danced around her horn in a helix, then flew out ahead of her, still spinning. The light dissolved areas of the shadow, but left some completely intact.

Twilight felt a wing brush down her back. “Do not worry about touching these shadows. More than one pony has become permanently lost in the forest thanks to these entities, but I have cleared our path. They cannot hurt you directly, only obscure what is within them. ”

Twilight obeyed, hopping a bit to keep up at first. Absentmindedly, she focused on the Princess while walking, and put one leg into an area of gloom. It was chilled, almost reminding her of wet mildew. More than that, the shadow wasn’t coming ‘from’ anything. There was nothing to block the light coming from Celestia. No objects to project the shadow, and no anti-candle to eat at the light. It was merely there.

She lit her horn and started to probe it with a little telekinesis, and found nothing. This is not to say that she found the space to be empty, but rather, she didn’t get any report at all from her magic.

A gentle but large hoof tapped her on the shoulder. “Come, Twilight. I shall give you a book on these creatures later if you desire.”

Her head ducked down, followed by her ears as she added the subject to her mental “to do” list. “Sorry, Princess.”

“No need to be, Twilight, I should have been more clear. Tell me, did you notice anything else about your predecessor’s magic?”

She nodded. "Yes, I did. With a few exceptions, it was all unicorn magic. Highly advanced, complicated, usually specialized, and often beyond my current practical skill level, but still. Only a few spells in there were marked as being alicorn magic, and none of them were something I could sight read no matter how much skill I had. It was abstract. Same with the other Grand Mages, too."

"That is because no pony has ever managed to create magical script that could ’record’ alicorn magic. Starswirl tried, as did Stellar. Neither succeeded. It is difficult to properly express what is needed for it when a large component of such magic is based on emotions, like the magic of earth ponies and pegasi. Often, saying ’cast this while angry’ isn’t enough."

Twilight jumped over a log that Celestia barely had to alter her gait to cross. "And that’s why Luna’s poems are better for alicorn magic, right?"

"Quite so! However, if you believe you can succeed where they failed, feel free to tackle the problem in your spare time."

Twilight stopped and sat for a second, scratching her chin.


She shook off her distraction. "Sorry, Princess. I was just considering what you said. I think it would be an amazing challenge, but I don’t think I’m ready for that yet."

The Princess laughed a bit. "I didn’t mean to imply that you were, my student! Take it on your own time. No rush."

She rubbed the back of her head, then resumed walking. "Oh. Ah heh heh. Right. Sorry."

"Quit apologizing so much, Twilight! I’m not angry. Now, tell me about Crimson Spectre. What do you think of him?" She pushed a branch out of Twilight’s way with a wing.

“He’s a brute.”

Celestia laughed, nearly losing control of the branch before Twilight could pass. “Okay, I can see that, but I was looking for more detail.”

Twilight dropped her head down and fell back slightly behind her mentor. “I admit his combat spells are beyond me right now. I might be able to cast them with a lot of undisturbed time, but there’s no way I could do it in a fight. I have no idea how anypony could focus that well in a battle.”

“It can be a great challenge. However, I’m fairly confident that isn’t the reason you used that word to describe him.”

Celestia could still read her, it seemed. “Yeah. I feel as if he might have gone too far going after Nightmare Moon. I had no idea she had so much support during the Lunar Rebellion, but he made it sound like those ponies all deserved death. He’d be a war criminal in the modern age.”

Twilight stopped walking, and sat down, unable to continue just yet. Her heart crushed inward on it’s next beat over the idea of what she was about to do. It was wrong; she shouldn’t even think of it, but this beyond-wrong idea just couldn’t be ignored. She subtly licked her lips to moisten them, and stopped again over the internal fight, delaying her words even more with a dry swallow before Celestia’s past words echoed in her mind.

~~Any question you ever have of me, I will answer. Truthfully and fully.~~

She inhaled through her nose, and exhaled just a little before finally, at long last speaking. “Why didn’t you stop him, Princess?”

Celestia had long since stopped walking, watching her for those moments and sighed before answering. “My little Twilight, in many ways you are more wise now than I was at nearly nine thousand. I suppose I could hide behind the idea of independence. My past Grand Mages were more or less free to act as they chose. Especially Crimson Spectre. But the truth is, I willingly turned a blind eye to their actions, and as such I am culpable.

“We were at war, and the Lunar Rebellions were not as quick or as simple as the history books make it sound. It was long, brutal, utterly destructive, and unimaginably bloody. We were so desperate, both sides, that we forgot about our ponies, and they paid a most horrible price for our negligence and pride. This is a mistake Luna and I shall regret for the rest of our lives, no matter how long they may be. Mountains may erode to plains, seas may boil away, and the tundras may become rainforest. As long as we live, we shall weep waterfalls of tears for our beloved ponies, and it will still never be enough.”

Twilight staggered, despite being seated. Her left knee shook, and eventually it crumbled her down to the ground, rear hoof twitching. She didn’t even notice that Celestia had gone over to her, and placed some of her primary feathers on her back.

“Not all knowledge is pleasant to know, my student, but this is the truth I promised you. Are you feeling okay?”

Twilight nodded, not saying anything, or rather, unable to say anything.

“I do not believe you, yet, so take your time.”

Twilight inhaled and exhaled, focusing on nothing but breathing for quite some time. It was the only thing preventing her from breaking down into tears. It wasn’t until and well after she felt Celestia’s hoof press against her back, keeping her laying down, that she began to calm. Her mentor had done this to her when she was a panicky filly, but she hadn’t needed it in some time. It still felt as calming as ever.

“Are you feeling better now?” Her voice had a slight bit of lightness to it this time; one Twilight knew signaled that Celestia might just believe her response.

“Yeah, I think I’m feeling better now. Wow, though.”

Celestia stood, and motioned for Twilight to do so as well. “Perhaps talking about Horizon’s book would make things easier. Shall we continue our journey?”

She exhaled once again, this time in relief. “Yeah. I like him. He’s calm and collected. I didn’t get a feel for any specialization like the other two, but he really seemed to be good at getting to the heart of matters. He was rather eloquent, as well. The fact that he stressed negotiation over fighting, and succeeded at both, is encouraging. It shows that it’s, well, possible.”

Twilight felt pressure lift off of her and a smile return to her face. Celestia was smiling, too.

“He was, without a doubt, one of the most insightful ponies I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Beautiful singing voice, too. What did you think of his magic?”

The newest Grand Mage could feel a slight headache coming on from that question. “Stunningly complex. Almost needlessly complex, like he was showing off. I’m honestly wondering what happened to him, because history doesn’t mention him much and his book just abruptly ends.”

They paused right before the crest of a hill, and Celestia closed her eyes. “I share some blame there, too. I should have been far more wary when the gryphons cried out for our help.”

“Gryphons? Ask for our help? Aren’t they rather—”

“Prideful? Stubborn? Some might say that of ponies as well, particularly alicorns. However, the situation was far more dire than I thought. A strange type of destructive magic began spreading throughout Gryphonia, and later I found out it likely would have spread to Equestria as well had it not been for Stellar’s courageous sacrifice. Although I doubt the gryphons would have been the aggressors in any war with us even then, his actions earned us vastly improved relations for centuries. He’s remembered better there than here in Equestria, in fact.”

“I see.” Twilight looked down at her hooves. If I had to, could I do that?

“I do not intend to ever put you in that position, Twilight, although I have every confidence in your bravery when it counts.”

A little shiver went up and then back down Twilight’s spine. “I appreciate your confidence, Princess, but—”

“It’s not very comforting, I know,” Celestia finished for her. “I wish I could give you more than words for assurance, but that is why Luna will help prepare you. Ah, here. I believe we are close to our destination, just over that hill.”

Twilight exhaled and resumed her march upwards with her mentor by her side. A short walk later, she recognized where they were going.

“The Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters!” She had to stop herself to reflect for an instant. This was where it all began nearly sixteen years ago.

Celestia, however, didn’t stop. She just kept walking towards the palace in silence, her glowing spell fading as the moonlight broke through the trees. Twilight mused briefly on what memories must be hidden there for her to have a sullen face like that as she galloped to catch up. Many more moments passed in silence as she rushed to keep up with her mentor through the corridors of the ruins.

Each turn led them deeper, and each step raised the hairs on the back of Twilight’s neck another degree. Although the forest wasn’t present within the castle and the moonlight plentiful, the very air seemed to whisper of darkness to her mind. Something was wrong here, she just didn’t quite know what. It was exactly as it looked last time. Ruined tapestries adorns the walls, windows, stained glass and clear alike, were broken horribly, some walls had crumbled, and little of the roof remained intact. Nopony but those in the most dire of circumstances could hope to call this ‘shelter’.

Eventually, they exited what seemed to be the other side of the ruins, and Celestia stopped walking. This was far deeper than she’d gone when fighting Nightmare Moon. The stone of the ground ended a few dozen meters in front of her, just before a steep drop off which contained extremely tall, dense, and dark trees. The entire section of forest seemed to be surrounded by the ruins. It took her several moments to realize that the drop off was, in fact, a crater at least a few kilometers in diameter. A shudder went through her as she realized that the ruins weren’t just a castle, but an entire town or possibly even a whole city.

Sighing, Celestia lay down on the ground in a hurry, closing her eyes and folding her legs under her. Twilight cautiously approached and laid down next to her, looking up in slight shock to see a few small tears flowing down her mentor’s muzzle.


“Forgive me, my student. There is simply… a lot of pain here.”

She nodded and lowered her head, her ears falling back. Slowly, the unnerving surroundings forced her to inch closer to the comfort provided by her teacher. The castle was foreboding when facing Nightmare Moon, but this was something else altogether. The woods in front of her seemed to pulse with dark power, sending vibrations down her horn and back. The smell of moss and fungi wafted up from the pit in front of her, and the air had a corrosive chill. The only thing she could do to block it out was to close her eyes.

A slight shiver went through her back as she felt Celestia’s long primary feathers poke through her coat, but was quickly vanquished by the warm feeling of the hug from the alabaster wing.

“What you’re seeing before us, Twilight, is the consequence of my inattention to Starswirl the Bearded. The palace and the city around it was not destroyed by Luna, nor was it Discord. Starswirl laid waste to my home some few years before we first encountered Discord.”

Her eyes shot open again. “Star… Bu-wha… How?”

“Indeed. Some few decades before Discord’s emergence, we determined that his magical growth had stopped. He would never have completed his ascension. When he learned of this, he started obsessing over ‘The After,’ which was his term for the afterlife. He was convinced that there was a way to arrive at an afterlife without having to suffer the pain of death. This is the result of the spell he used in his attempt.

“The spell did indeed create a portal, though where it really led is anypony’s guess. All I knew was that it was expanding rapidly, consuming more of the castle every second. I tried to close it, and when that failed I tried to put a shield over it. The shield was simply stretched, or pushed outward by the portal like a balloon being pumped full of air. I panicked, so I did the next thing that came to mind: I tried to teleport the entire thing into orbit.”

A stuttering sigh left her lips as she visibly fought back tears. “I didn’t think any of it through, but that didn’t matter, as what happened next I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams. Somehow, the spells reacted, and destroyed each other violently. The blast was enormous, but would have been much larger were it not for the shield I cast. Regardless, the damage was done. My home was destroyed, countless ponies lost their lives from the spell’s detonation or were consumed by the portal, and the magical contamination twisted the once-peaceful forest into the corrupt Everfree.”

Twilight whimpered quietly. This was almost too much to take in. The fact that he could cause such widespread destruction meant she could do it too, if she wasn’t careful.

“I brought Crimson and Stellar here, to this very spot, at the start of their terms as Grand Mages. I wanted to show them the dire result of an alicorn ascendent gone mad. Now, you are here, too, yet under much different circumstances.”


Celestia had regained much of her poise, and turned again to look at her. Twilight looked deep into her eyes, and saw that the sadness was still there, in spite of the clear attempts to hide the sorrow.

“I am quite confident that you will be able to weather such trials thanks to your wonderful friends. As such, this place serves a different purpose. It is to show you that I, too, make mistakes.”

Twilight blinked. “I’m not sure I follow.”

“Compared to the other Grand Mages, you and I share a very different relationship. I did not help raise them; only you received that attention. However, going forward, the nature of our bond must change. Awful though it sounds, and though it does not diminish the fondness and love I later grew for you, from the moment I met you, I carefully crafted our interactions so you would grow attached to me. So that you would trust me.”

“Was there a reason I shouldn’t have?”

Celestia started back, pain-stricken, but clearly not at Twilight’s words specifically. “No, not really. I just couldn’t afford to fail at that, and I was cynical about it at first, so I was extra careful. I’m a politician, Twilight. By necessity or not, my initial approach towards you is a source of shame for me.”

“It sounds like you’re trying to make wanting to be my friend sound sinister.” She shrugged.

“I… suppose I am. But it’s something I had to confess. I’m grateful to the heavens that we have grown truly close over the years. Nothing about that has been a lie. Yet, as I said, the nature of our relationship must change once again. I can’t help you become my equal by keeping you so far beneath me.”

“I’ve never felt it was like that. I always felt like…” She turned and looked at the wing over her back. “Like I was just under your wing. Sure, I was in your shadow, but you’re the princess. I’m just the faithful student.”

“And that’s exactly what must change.”

Her heart twisted and raced at the comment. “I can’t be your student anymore?”

“You cannot be ‘just’ my student anymore. I do not wish to grow distant from you, Twilight, please do not misunderstand. And I certainly do not wish to stop teaching you, nor shall I ever. I will always be your teacher when you need me to be. Yet, for your sake, Equestria’s, and my own, you must eventually become far more than that: a fully ascended alicorn princess. A pony not in my shadow, but at my side.” The Princess closed her eyes and clenched her teeth for a moment.

“Princess!?” Twilight choked. “But I thought I would just be a Grand Mage!?”

A stern look on Celestia’s face emerged, yet Twilight did not feel it was for her. “If I was being truly fair to you, I would have crowned you as a princess a decade ago. For all you’ve done for everypony, you deserve to be rewarded thus. Yet, I could not bring myself to tear you so easily away from your adoptive home in Ponyville.”

“Princess—” A tug from the wing over her stopped her short.

“It’s the truth, Twilight. However, if you’re still apprehensive about taking on the full weight of royalty, I understand. I truly do. Your current position is yours for as long as you want it. Centuries, even millennia if you truly wish. Whenever you’re ready, though, your crown has already been made.” Celestia leaned in close. “I had it forged the day you got your cutie mark.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide. “All this time, you’ve known?”

“I prepared!” Celestia smiled, sitting up straight again. “I’ve gotten kind of good at that over the years. Honestly I would have done it even sooner had I not been angry at the Director of the Royal Forge at the time. So I waited for him to retire. That’s one of the perks of agelessness. Still, it could have been earlier. Shortly after a certain small lavender unicorn was born, a young pink princess brought my attention to a talented colt in a middle class Canterlot family. A family I had my eye on from then on out.”

Twilight froze, uncertain of what to say.

Celestia leaned back in. “I told you, Twilight. No more secrets.”

“P-Princess…” Words still wouldn’t come.

Celestia sighed. “But that’s another thing, too. I didn’t do this with the others, but your situation is unique. I need you to stop calling me ‘Princess’ in public.”

“What?” Twilight shot up in reaction, only to lay down again from the weight and resistance of her mentor’s massive wing. “I-I can’t do that! It’s extremely disrespectful! Not to mention that the nobility—”

“Needs a demonstration of your authority with the crown,” Celestia interrupted. “Nopony has been grand mage in several lifetimes, Twilight. Your authority will be challenged by them. They might even try to subvert it. We cannot allow this. If they see you speaking to me as an equal, and then see me speak to you as the same, your own power and presence will be bolstered. What’s more, I—” Celestia stopped speaking, slowly closed her eyes, and began breathing more heavily.

“Pri—, I mean, your ma—…” Twilight looked around nervously as she struggled to find a way to address her.

“‘Tia.’ Call me ‘Tia.’ ‘Celly’ would work just as well, really, but I’ve always preferred ‘Tia.’”

“Ti—” She choked on the name, literally. Her lungs seized up to stop the second syllable. I can’t do it! she desperately thought to herself, growing more nervous as Celestia’s face turned away from her in pain.

What do I do? The very idea of calling her that is revolting. Sure, I could do that for Luna, but that’s because— Twilight Sparkle’s eyes went wide. Because she’s been holding back almost all of her power to appear as Luna! The instinct isn’t as strong with her! On top of that, Luna said that Celestia is far more powerful than even Nightmare Moon at her greatest, and if that’s the case…

She ended her internal monologue and set about trying her idea. Very carefully, she summoned forth some magic into her horn, and directed it back into her body instead of out into a spell. Normally, this would simply be a way to waste perfectly good magic, but here it might just help, even without a direct spell being cast. If an alicorn with greater power has a greater local influence on other ponies’ minds, then buffering my body and mind with more magic might dampen the effect.

She filled her lungs and paced her breathing out to be deep and relaxed, letting the warm, clear magic from her horn push against the panic of being close to the Princess. Tia… Tia… Tia… Her imagination replayed just the scene of her speaking the one word, becoming more comfortable with each try. Panic fled her body like sweat from her pores, and after several attempts to continue the conversation in her mind, she opened her eyes and stood up, partially uncovering herself from the wing.

“Tia,” she spoke, fluidly.

The diarch turned back to her with a hopeful visage.

“I’m going to do my best to be what you—” She stopped herself for just a moment, but not in hesitation. Rather, it was from realization. Celestia was not speaking as a mere mentor or friend this time. They were from Celestia as the Princess. “What Equestria needs me to be.”

She only had time to show her a second of a confident smile before getting dragged into a ribcage-crushing alicorn hug. It felt good, but Twilight couldn’t help noticing Celestia’s distant gaze towards the crater.

“Thank you, Twilight. I must admit, that must have been as difficult for you as it was me.”

She coughed a bit before responding. “How come?” Her voice cracked.

Celestia nodded. “As I said, I’m a politician. I practice living, acting, and even existing within an untouchable and unreachable pedestal. I have to be the image of Equestria itself. I’ve done it so much it has blended into who I am. I’ve only ever been able to confide in and be my ‘true’ self with a scarce few ponies, and you were not among them. You couldn’t be. I needed to be a brighter beacon to you than to any other.”

“Is that what you meant before by a changing relationship?”

“Yes. I need to drop the mask with you, but it’s going to be every bit as hard for me to do that as it is for you to use my name casually. Maybe even harder. I have to stop being the deity you see me to be, and for that I’m terribly, terribly sorry.”

“Why are you sorry? I don’t mind, really. I’d be honored to be one of the ponies you confide in.”

Celestia turned away again. “Because you will be ashamed of me.”

“Tia…” This time she said it without effort or build-up. It merely came. “I already know you’ve had to sacrifice for us. I can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve had to go through. But a long time ago I learned that we don’t have to go through it alone. I think it was one of my first friendship reports, remember?”

“Yes, I know…” She winced slowly. “But it’s not something I can just… This is unlike anything else you’ve experienced. I can’t honestly expect you to carry— “

“The burden of the alicorn, right? You carried it by yourself for a thousand years. Let me help!”

Celestia shook her head. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

Twilight summoned more energy into her horn and through her body to try to continue the effect, then jumped over to Celestia’s other side. I sure hope I know what I’m doing. She gently lifted her hoof up to the bottom of her chin to get her to pay attention as Celestia had done to her so many times.

“You told me that you would reveal anything you knew, any secrets you’ve kept from me. Things you couldn’t tell me before. ‘On my crown, this I promise you,’ you said. Tia, I’m asking now. Please, tell me anything you need somepony, anypony to hear.”

Celestia opened her eyes and looked at her. Twilight had never felt such pain from another pony. It was as if she could feel her mentor’s heart being ripped out and put on display. Twilight nearly felt physically ill from it, and Celestia certainly looked it, from the waterfall of tears streaming down her face.

Celestia closed her eyes again, and began to cry, lifting her head up towards the velvet night sky, then lowering it down to the ground, muffling sobs.

Okay, Twilight, here’s the situation. Your mentor is on the ground, sobbing, and you have no idea why or what to do or say. So, what do we do? I have no idea, I just told myself that! Okay, stay calm, filly, there must be a logical solution here. The ground, yes, look at the ground! It’s all… gray cobblestone and such. Extremely interesting. I wonder why there isn’t any grass growing in between the oh what am I doing?

She only had just enough time to flinch at herself before getting dragged into another crushing alicorn hug. Celestia pulled her in tight, nearly smothering her in her soft, ivory coat.

Getting crushed in a hug by somepony with more earth pony magic than an Apple Family reunion. Definitely the logical course of action, she thought, twisting her body to try to find a position that she could breathe in. Settling on a spot, she waited while the tears flowed. Eventually, she started to cry too, although her anxiety prevented it from sounding as genuine as she’d like.

She wasn’t entirely certain how long this lasted, but it was long enough to lose focus on most of the conversation they had before, and simply exist in the raw emotion of it all, even through the alicorn’s loosening grip. Sleep was threatening to take her when Celestia broke the silence.

“I’m so, so sorry about this, Twilight. I never intended for you to see me so weak. Some part of me is glad you said those words, though I know you have no idea what they mean to me.”

Twilight swallowed a little. “I meant every word.”

“I know you did, but that is not what I meant. Just then, you sounded like him. Whenever he knew somepony was suffering, my son would say something just like that.”

Twilight’s brain skipped a gear. “Son!? But alicorns can’t—”

“No, we can’t. But unicorns can. I led a long life before my ascension, Twilight. It wasn’t like yours. I was an old mare; ancient even. Awaiting the grip of the reaper every day, so that I might be able to see my fallen husband and child once more.” Celestia took a pained, stuttering breath in, fighting more tears. “Then,” she swallowed. “The color began to return to my mane. In a year’s time, Luna and I were back in our prime, and chased out of our village for using banned magics.”

“You had a husband too…”

“A big goofball, and so kind. A masterful musician and a hopeless flirt to his last days. I miss them both so much. I don’t even know where their graves are anymore! And now I’m asking you to—”


“Twilight, I—”

Twilight squirmed, interrupting her, and pushed out of the grip with a small kick to the ground. Stumbling, she hopped up and turned back to Celestia.

“You aren’t asking me to do anything. If ascension is as ‘eventful’ as you made it sound, then this isn’t your fault. I don’t think it’s my fault either. I don’t believe in fate or destiny, but I’m willing to accept that if I don’t get involved, and soon, I’ll regret it. My ponies need me. They…”

Twilight stopped, her mind catching up with what she was saying. “I… I…”

Celestia moved back next to her student. “Lulu is right. You are advancing faster than I thought. In a way, that’s comforting. But it also means we need to get you trained as much as we can, and soon. It won’t be quiet for long, and I can’t protect you personally anymore.”

Twilight swallowed roughly, thinking back a few days. “Yeah, the flames. Does it happen every time you fight?”

She paused for a moment. “There was a time when I thought I had a means to be able to do something despite the flames. Then, the one time I tried it, the one time I needed it, I had to hold back too much and a changeling queen scored a direct hit on my horn. You’ll have to watch that; we share the same weakness as unicorns. For all our power, a direct hit there can still render us helpless.” Twilight cringed a little as Celestia’s face registered two very different types of disgust at the same time. “And then we find ourselves in a cocoon.”

“I never realized how important that day was. I never thought I could underestimate its importance.”

“It could be argued that I suffered one of my greatest failures on that day, looking back. I’m also ashamed to say that it was the second most disgusting experience in my long life.”

Twilight blinked for a second. “Second most? Then what was—” She halted her speech when a sudden shudder came from her mentor. “Never mind, I don’t want to know.”

“That day proved that I wasn’t able to fight. My little spell was far too weak. Worse, do you remember that rage you felt confronting Towers?”

Twilight nodded. “I don’t think I could ever forget. That was awful.”

“It’s worse for me.”

Twilight swung her head to look at her more closely.

“It’s hard for me to gauge personally, but both Luna and Lord Glacien, my old friend from the pre-Discord era, have both told me about their experience with it. Luna may lay claim to the title ‘alicorn of passion,’ but even she thinks that nopony feels that instinct more than I do,” she sighed. “Remember when I said I have become too much like the sun I represent? Alicorns can influence the environment, sometimes greatly, with their emotions. When I feel the instinct to protect my ponies, to destroy anything that may harm them, it fuels the fire. It takes every iota of my not inconsiderable will to quell the feeling. If I slip up, even for an instant, or worse, actually engage in fighting…”

“You summon the flames,” Twilight concluded. “How bad does it get?”

Celestia paused for a long time. "Canterlot in ashes."

Twilight swallowed, hard. “But what about my flames? When I was hurt by Towers, I—”

“I wouldn’t worry about that.”

“You wouldn’t?”

Celestia shook her head. “No, Twilight, as strange as it is to say, that’s normal for a young alicorn. Your magic is relatively unstable and unbalanced right now, and may remain so for a while. Once you ascend, you will find that you have your own way of affecting the environment.”

“Really? How?”

“I can’t say yet, Twilight,” she said with a small laugh. “There are many abilities that alicorns get that are unique to the individual. That’s one of them. It’s like asking what your cutie mark will be. I highly doubt you will have flames like mine.”

Twilight exhaled hard, flopping down to the ground. “That’s a relief.”

“Indeed. Two defenseless alicorns would be a true disaster.”

“What!?” Twilight stood back up. “Princess! Don’t say that!”

“I know, Twilight. I’m just venting a little. It’s frustrating, having power and being unable to use it for my ponies. Now I understand a bit how Luna must feel.” Celestia sighed. “After the changeling attack, I tried to pretend everything was alright. That things weren’t falling apart around my fetlocks. Looking back, I feel ashamed at my willful ignorance.”

“But that wasn’t your fault, it—”

“The attack was not my fault. That is solely on Chrysalis. My denial of reality, however, falls squarely on my shoulders, and it was a poor example for a leader to set. Fortunately, your brother reacted in a more mature and productive manner. He led where I failed.”

“What did Shiny do?”

“He started undergoing special training to steel his mind against further attacks, along with key members of his staff. He’s progressed quite a bit with it, actually, and he’s still working on it. It’s not perfect, but he now has means to give himself considerable resistance to brainwashing and mind-altering magic. Luna can still break through into his dreams, though.”

“That sounds like Shiny. Whenever anypony found a weakness in him, he didn’t stop until he removed it.” Twilight looked up at the stars, trying to think back to her foalhood. “He was always there for me, you know? Before I became your student, my parents were always so busy, I didn’t see them much.”

“I seem to recall that you didn’t see them much even after I accepted you as my protégé. I had to encourage you to visit them.”

Her cheeks started to burn. “True. I didn’t want to say anything bad about them to you, but a lot of the time I didn’t because they weren’t there to be visited. Shiny was, though, and he came to see me.”

“I remember. It’s rare for a colt to take such an interest in his little sister’s well being. It speaks to his character, which is why I chose him to be my next Captain of the Royal Guard, in spite of the Council’s protests over selecting a non-noble.”

She scratched the back of her head with a nervous smile and a slight chuckle. “He really did take care of me. I think I was raised more by him than by mom, to tell the truth. Even when I moved to Ponyville, it turns out he was still looking out for me, creating a whole team to protect me. I feel like such a burden. He’s got a hard enough job as it is, and I know Cadence wants to have foals on top of it.”

Her words forced a connection in her mind, and Twilight realized a certain incontrovertible fact that was simply heretofore inconceivable to her. It was a simple truth that froze her body up completely; a revelation that knocked her over on her side while the rest of her body went utterly rigid and left a particular pony princess pretty perplexed.

“Twilight, are you okay?” she asked.

The notion in her brain was rattling around and hitting every emotional center she had like a pinball and the machine was registering a tilt. Desperate, she searched for some kind of clause that would allow for an escape, but her efforts were futile. It was true, and for some reason it shook her to the core. If Princess Celestia had, at one point, a husband and a son, there was no getting around it and her mouth belted it out without heeding any kind of societal safety checks, not even the ones only in place while around the diarch.

“You’ve had sex!?” Her mouth wouldn’t close after finishing the question, it just hung there as a perfectly still contrast to her twitching eyes. Another moment passed between them, with awkwardness that would have been legendary if anypony else had been there to see it. Twilight’s insides twisted in on themselves and her muscles would have refused to acknowledge any and all input if she could bring herself to give them any. The moment abruptly ended with Celestia laughing harder than she’d ever seen her laugh before.

“What? I mean, you’ve… how could… I mean, I know I shouldn’t have assumed, but…”

A hoof on the shoulder silenced only a part of her worries, since Celestia was still laughing.

“I’m sorry, Princess.”

A few more seconds passed before Celestia could regain control of her lungs to speak. “It’s quite alright, Twilight. It honestly never occurred to me that you might have raised me to the level of a…” The Princess’ words paused as she fought back more laughs. “A vestal virgin!”

Twilight groaned and buried her face in Celestia’s side. Just how many more times am I going to embarrass myself?

“Hehe, oh Twilight. It’s fine! Truly, it’s fine. I needed that laugh. And yes, I’m a mare. I’ve done all kinds of things normal for a pony, including marriage and sex.” Celestia gave a calming exhale. “Ah, thank you, Twilight. This wasn’t near as bad as I thought it would be. I’m so, so sorry for not dropping this blasted mask earlier. I hope we can share more moments like this. As friends, not master and student.”

Twilight took a step back and bowed. “Of course, Princess. Er, Tia. It would be an honor.”

The words were automatic, but still rang true to her feelings. It relieved Twilight deeply to see a genuine, even motherly smile from the Princess. However, her relief was short lived. Slowly, Celestia’s face changed, first to a smirk and then a mischievous grin, which started to grow as well. Twilight twisted her hoof inwards a little as she realized what was coming. She was about to be teased.

“Well, now that we’ve settled that, have you had any romantic flings?”

“No, of course not!”

Even if she knew it was teasing, this was thoroughly embarrassing. The surface of the sun had nothing on the burning in her cheeks.

“‘Of course not’? Why, my dear, you are a beautiful mare. Surely you’ve had at least one roll in the hay.”

“I’m not hearing this, not from the Princess, nope, not actually happening!”

“Oh, and I’m still a mare, Twilight. Why, just a few weeks ago I had both Fancy Pants and Fleur de Lis up in my chambers for—”

Twilight ducked and put her hooves over her ears. “No! Not possible! Not going to entertain the possibility! Bad thoughts will not reside in my head!”

The Princess clearly didn’t have any mercy today, because she tore Twilight’s hooves from her ears with a strong telekinetic grasp that Twilight couldn’t seem to break, though it should’ve been trivial for her to do so. “Bad thoughts? Why, Twilight, there’s nothing wrong with, shall we say, intimacy. I bet you’ll get asked out more than a few times in your future journeys. Some stallions are attracted to power, after all. Why, I’m surprised your treehouse door hasn’t been banged down by suitors already! Or perhaps it’s because you’re into mares?”

“What? No! At least, I don’t think so, I mean—”

“It’s alright, Twilight, I’ve had a few in my—”

Twilight finally managed to disrupt Celestia’s grip with her own and recovered her ears. “NO! I mean, grah, why is this so much more difficult to explain to you than to Rarity!?” Answered your own question there, filly. “And if you have done all this, why isn’t it in the news or something?! It’s kind of a big deal!”

“Well, my relations need to be discreet, but that’s because of my political position. You aren’t a princess, not yet anyway, so if you find somepony special, you should pursue it! Of course, if you just need a fling, let me know. I know a number of skilled stallions, especially Fancy Pants, that can be quite—”

Twilight put her hooves over her ears again. “No, no, bad thoughts!”

Celestia broke out into another wave of roaring laughter. “Oh, Twilight, you’re too easy to tease! Okay, I promise, no more for a while.”

Twilight flopped over on the ground and breathed in relief. “Ugh.”

“You’ll have to get used to some prodding from us eventually, Twilight. Luna is quite fond of such teasing and pranks, though I dare say it may be awhile before she tries any on you.”

Twilight rolled over on her back and exhaled. “Huh. She did say the next time it was just us, I should call you ‘Tia’ so she could see your reaction. Heh. Guess I kind of blew that one.”

Celestia blinked too, and then smiled. “Oh did she now? Well, I’m afraid I beat her to the punch, as it were. I hope she’s not losing her touch, that truly wouldn’t have bothered me at all. Surprised, maybe, but not bothered. Although the other day she did replace my shampoo with mayonnaise. So I suppose I shouldn’t worry too much.”

Twilight giggled. Yeah, they really are sisters.

“I think we’ve been here long enough now, Twilight. We should start heading back.”

Twilight nodded, getting back up on her hooves. She trotted slowly, taking in the history of the ancient palace and observing the details that had managed to survive the destruction and weathering of time. Some of the walls had ancient script inscribed on them with arrows giving directions, though the letters were too worn or moss-covered to read easily. At a point midway through the castle, she stopped when her hoof fell on an odd spot on the ground. It felt as if there was something sticky and heavy there, but it was visibly smooth stone and didn’t impede her hoof at all as she hovered it over the area.

“Something is wrong here,” she whispered.


“Celestia, I… I can’t quite explain it. But here, this exact spot, it’s not right. Somehow. Like the stone is made out of dread… or sorrow.”

“Ah, so you can sense it already!”

“Sense what?”

Celestia put her larger hoof on the wall next to her student’s. “Alicorns gain extra senses during our ascension. One of them is the ability to tell where our ponies have been killed. Normally, we can only sense recent deaths, but the more violent and unfair the loss, and the larger the number, the longer the feeling in a spot may linger.”

Twilight shuddered. Somepony had died, right at that spot. “If I can sense that, then what about in Canterlot? Will I start to sense the attack there?”

“For a little while, at least. Areas with exceptionally high hoof traffic like the castle will see the effect fade much more quickly. It shouldn’t be as intense as here, since this place has been abandoned for millennia, save for a brief time when Luna used it as a covert base in the Lunar Rebellion. I also think it possible that the corruption of the forest may be preserving these tainted areas.”

Celestia motioned for them to keep moving. “Tell me, Twilight, have you had any other extrasensory experiences yet? There’s one more that would be useful for you to have.”

“Yes, actually,” she said, following. “When you transformed me I could see magic with my eyes closed. Not just a little glow, I could see how the spell was put together, even if I can’t remember the details. I also saw it when fighting Towers. Is that something?”

Celestia exhaled in relief, and her wings went limp just a little. “Thank the heavens. None of the other Grand Mages developed our magic sight in their service. I don’t know how to force it out, but keep trying to control it if you can. It would be a huge, huge benefit to you if you can master this.”

“I don’t even know how I did it. It just sort of happened. One of the times my eyes were closed. Does it just happen randomly?”

“No, we can control it and use it with our eyes open. Like now, for instance.”

Twilight’s hair started standing up on end. She could feel her mentor use the ability on her body. It was like a ghost was going through her, or perhaps more like all of Ponyville watching her do something humiliating. She curled up and shivered a bit.

“Wow, that feels creepy!”

The Princess’s eyes went wide. “You can feel it?”

Twilight shuddered again, gripping one foreleg with the other. “Yeah, can’t you? It’s like I’m exposed somehow.”

Just as quickly as the feeling came, it vanished again.

“That is… different,” Celestia said. “I’ve never known anypony who could feel it. Neither Luna nor I can tell when we use it on each other. I’m really not sure what to make of this yet. When did you notice it?”

“When you looked at me on the cloud is when I really felt it first, but looking back, I can see how I might’ve felt it a tiny bit even before that.”

“Hmmm. This could be better than I’d hoped! Each alicorn develops abilities unique to them, and one of yours might be an extremely fine sense of magic. It would make sense for the Element of Magic, I think, and could prove to be unimaginably useful.”

“Hmm… Yeah, if I could determine its accuracy, I might be able to adapt it for experimental use! Although if its accuracy varies depending on my condition and ascendency completion I’d have to find a way to calibrate it.”

Celestia began a laugh. “I meant in your duty as Grand Mage, but yes, I can see that too.”

Twilight smiled sheepishly, and quieted herself as they moved through the castle. Celestia spoke up again when they exited.

“There, I think we’re far enough now. Teleporting out is quite a bit easier than trying to get in. The last time I came here, the Elements’ activation made it easier to teleport directly to the castle. The twisted magic of the Everfree has had ample time to overtake the castle once again. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Princess,” she replied.

The diarch raised an eyebrow.

“I mean, Tia.”

“That’s more like it, although I won’t blame you if we need to work on it over time. I can see how it would be a big adjustment for you. Now then, are you ready?”

Twilight nodded.

A small, royal smile and a burst of magic later, they left the spooky confines of the forest and arrived back in the Canterlot castle gardens. Or rather, what looked like the gardens, only upside down.

“Oof!” A bit of wind knocked out of Twilight from landing on her head and back. The headache was already there from the teleportation.

“Looks like there was still some interference. Are you hurt, Twilight?”

“Ugh,” she said, turning over on her belly. Her stomach didn’t seem to want to follow suit. “I think I’ll be okay.”

“This is a rather undignified position for me, wouldn’t you say?” the Princess said, smiling whilst on her back and legs in the air.

“Hehe. Well, it’s no worse than what Rainbow would be stuck in after a new trick.”

A loud crash sounded behind Twilight, who turned to see a young, peach-colored earth pony mare and a broken clay pot on a nearby stone path.

The newcomer quickly turned around. “I’m so sorry, Princess! I didn’t mean to be spying!”

“You weren’t. I never thought this to be private. Me being upside down is hardly a significant scandal compared to recent events,” she said, righting herself and shaking grass out of her wings.

Twilight got up to her hooves, against her stomach’s protests, and went over towards the earth pony. “Yeah, I suppose when you look at it that way, this is nothing. Doesn’t make the other stuff any more pleasant, though.” Her trot forward came to a premature halt and she felt the ground under her hooves. “Princess, this ground…”

“Yes, it appears this was a place where we lost some ponies.”

Twilight’s heart began to race as she felt around on the ground. “There’s more here.”

“There… there was a major fight here during the coup attempt. I saw it. I hid over there, back behind the bushes,” the peach mare said, pointing. “I had only just started a week ago, and I’m still part-time. I got changed to night work when Hayseed was…”

Although Twilight could hear her mentor moving, she paid no heed to it as she walked around, feeling the stone path on the ground. Something changed as she dragged her hoof along the ground, but she wasn’t quite sure what. The same dark feelings she felt at the castle persisted, but over a certain area, it was weaker. Slowly, she moved her hooves over the grass, feeling it, and then over the stone path.

“There’s a drop in the intensity, I— Ow!” She squinted at the pain on her head above her horn, and her vision was once again overtaken by her other sight. Soft clouds of sparkling magic and blazing hues arcing through the air revealed some intricacies of the magic all around her. The grass itself even had a faint, blurry glow to it. Underneath her, some parts of the stone path was steeped in darkness akin to bubbling molasses despite the bright castle lights. Cutting across the dark area was a path where it was weaker; more morose than sorrowful. “I can see it now! Ha! This is incredible!”

Whatever eerie feeling the black marks on the ground had been giving her was utterly overtaken by her raw curiosity. She couldn’t help but smile as she ran through the possibilities in her head again. The thrill of discovery was completely overtaking the eerie feeling she got from the magic embedded in the stone, and she had a smile nearly as big as the one she held after raising the moon. Her eyes followed the lighter path in the darkness on the ground, and eventually she found herself looking back up at the two other ponies. Celestia was there, bright as ever. Her form was engulfed in power glowing bright enough to make her appear as a pony-shaped star. Moreover, vast undercurrents of power were flowing out of her like coronal mass ejections, spreading out into the environment and back into her in a cycle similar to that of a magnetic field. This wasn’t like the magic of a telekinetic field. It was going through things without any direct observable effects outside of this vision.

~~Alicorns can influence the environment, sometimes greatly, with their emotions. When I feel the instinct to protect my ponies, to destroy anything that may harm them, it fuels the fire.~~

I didn’t see this the last time I used this vision on her. Did I miss it? Was she suppressing it? Or was I unable to see it? And what’s that?

An extremely faint pony form with a tiny star-like point of light in the center was next to the Princess. Although infinitesimal compared to the diarch, it was still brighter than she expected.

Hmmm… Which direction did she come from again? She looked around at where the earth pony was, and thought of her likely paths. No matter which she chose, it was the same. The dark blotches on the ground were lightest where the gardener had been working. More importantly, those closest to Celestia were fading away right before her very eyes.

With a blink, her vision turned back to normal, and a possibility entered into her mind when she saw the earth pony mare where the star had been.

Twilight cleared her throat and addressed the earth pony. “What did you say your name was?”

"Um, Peach Blossom, miss."

“You said you were part-time?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Hmmm…” Twilight put her hoof to her chin in thought. Technically, what she was doing wasn’t outside her authority, but it she still felt a little odd about it. “Congratulations, you’re full-time now. I want you to talk to security right away, find out where the battles in the gardens were, and start tending those areas first. Can you do that for me?”

Celestia might’ve been a sun in magic sense, but the young mare’s new smile was almost as bright, even when bowing. “Yes! Oh, thank you so much! I can quit working at that hotel now, and stop living in that awful— just, thank you!”

The Princess laughed a bit, and bent down to her. “Incidentally, everything our Grand Mage just said other than the promotion is classified. I’d advise getting to work.”

Peach Blossom jolted up and started running. “Yes! Of course! Right away! Thank yooooouuu!”

Twilight smiled a bit, and started walking back to the castle with Celestia beside her under the night sky.

“She is quite a powerful earth pony, isn’t she?” her teacher asked.

“Yeah. I think her power might help break down whatever’s giving us these feelings from the battle.”

“You’re right! Earth pony magic erodes it much faster than if it was left on its own. It is fitting that their magic, the magic of life, washes away the stain of death. Sharp as ever, my student!”

Twilight laughed a bit and smiled, looking down a bit while the magic sight dropped out. “Happy as I am about that, I’m happier we can remove the battle scars a bit faster.”

Celestia’s smile was replaced with a small frown. “The scars? Yes.” A lone tear fell down her right cheek as she exhaled and spoke softly.

“But the ghosts will linger forever.”