Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

Tours and Tests

“Not that way, Twilight. This way. I want to show you something.”

Twilight stopped mid-step and turned left to follow Luna, still shaking off the daze the portal to the war room seemed to leave her with recently. “Okay, but, what? After the war room, I’ve seen basically all of the castle.”

Luna smiled. “You didn’t know we’ve been quietly adding on over the past few months, did you?”


“Indeed! The recent attack did enough damage, however, that we have decided to expand more seriously. Up until now, these recent additions have been small and easily missed. Also, easier to pass in the budget.”

“Ah, so that’s what those construction ponies by Celestia’s chambers were doing!”

Luna hopped a little around a corner. “Indeed! Tia wants to do something with that wall. I’m glad the construction ponies are already there. It means things are, for once, on schedule.”

Twilight allowed herself a little chuckle as they rounded a corner. Further off to her left was indeed a new doorway with sunlight pouring through its glass center. They ducked in, and she saw it was a hallway that, instead of walls, had floor-to-ceiling windows. The “outside” of the hall had a very splendid view of the gardens, though there was still a crater that had yet to be filled in. The “inside” of the hall, to her right, had a small courtyard with some fancy plants and flowers. Ahead of her, the hall made a turn to the right to close the courtyard in.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Luna said, approaching the turn of the hall, her pace slowing before coming to a stop at a corner. “This was actually one of the earlier additions, before the battle. Not only is it a shortcut to the administration offices, it gives a much nicer view.”

“It is nice,” Twilight said, wincing a little. Something’s off here. It does look nice, so why does Luna sound so nervous?

Long seconds passed while Luna’s grin slowly faded, never turning away from the garden view. After it had been gone some time, the Princess finally turned back to Twilight.

“I’m afraid I have some troublesome news, Twilight. I didn’t want to tell you this right after you raised the moon. You just looked so happy. And, well, to be fair you were also catatonic. But I didn’t let you borrow my moon simply for enjoyment. It was an evaluation.”

Twilight’s body froze, and her heart stopped for exactly two seconds, then raced northward of a hundred thirty beats per minute. In all of her life, she had never failed a test. Not once did she ever get a paper returned to her with an “F” on it, nor anything less than an “A-”, and that black mark on her record was an accident that left her traumatized for a month. Even on things that weren’t on paper, she’d never, ever, come back with anything less than flying colors.

Technically, the Princess didn’t say the t-word, nor the f-word, but “evaluation” and “troublesome news” were clear enough.

Luna sunk her head down a little. “Tia warned me about using the word ‘test.’ I guess I didn’t change it enough.”

One hundred forty beats per minute.

Two silver-clad hooves gripped her shoulders, and the hairs on the back of her neck shot up straight. Luna was using her magic sight.

“Twilight, listen to me. Our alicorn senses provide us with tremendous insight into the magic of our world. I can tell that you now have the magic of all three tribes within you, and that all of them are growing. When you first arrived here at the castle, it was so faint I was worried I was imagining it. Now, it’s clear your wellspring is birthing unicorn, pegasus, and earth pony magic. Your body’s leylines are growing, too. They are brightest for the ones carrying unicorn magic to your horn, but I can see that there are new leylines now. They are carrying your new earth pony and pegasus magic to your skin, hooves, and spine. I can see the very core of your wellspring shining far brighter than that of other ponies, even far beyond that of your friend Rainbow Dash, and of your brother. Yet there are many things these senses cannot do.”

Luna shut off the sight and the hairs on the back of her neck collapsed right in sync with the rest of her, slumping down to the ground. The Princess laid down next to her to look her in the eye.

“The sight cannot tell me how much control you have over your magic. It cannot tell me how well you can understand my poems. And, it cannot tell me how fast you can draw from your wellspring at once. These things I had to see for myself, so I gave you the greatest challenge I could without endangering you: I had you raise the moon.”

The smaller mare swallowed. “Is… is that what you were—” She swallowed again. “Testing me on?”

Luna nodded. “Indeed. I must admit, in the first two fields, control and interpretation, you exceeded all my expectations.”

“But…” she squeaked.

However,” she replied, softening her voice. “I have drastically overestimated the rate at which you are able to pull magic from your wellspring. I honestly did not expect you to take so long to fill that magic circle. I was guessing thirty seconds, at most. Instead, it was over three and a half minutes. This is my fault, not yours. I used your brother, a soldier, as a baseline.”

“Oh.” Her voice was soft, but her heart was pounding. “I’ve hardly ever let myself use my wellspring like that. When I was a filly, I had an… I had an accident, and temporarily turned my parents into plants. So I always held back. I practiced limiting myself. Tried to get things done with the smallest amount of magic possible. I…” She trailed off for a moment, sniffling and rubbing her stiff, aching neck. “How bad? How behind am I?”

“The truth?” Luna asked.

Twilight tried to nod, but failed from her neck being just that seized up. “The truth,” she whispered.

Luna sighed, her wings drooping a little. “Thou art a fire hose. Respectable in any reasonable sense. Thy brother, on the other hoof, is a hydroelectric dam outflow during a flood.”

Twilight laid her head down on her forelegs, her strength waning.

“Again, this is not your fault, Twilight. I should have realized that a scientist and, in Celly’s words, ‘a ravenous bookworm,’ would be used to taking her time with smaller quantities of magic. Control over power. I forgot that even though you two are as close as any siblings I’ve ever met, your worlds are totally different.”

Twilight tried to stand again, but just slid back down. “So… you can’t teach me?” she asked, fighting back her tears.

Luna sat up and lifted Twilight head with her silver-clad hooves. “Twilight, on my crown, I promise you: I will teach you. You are going to learn more in these three months than you had ever thought possible. The only thing this changes is what I’m going to teach you.”

Luna’s words helped, but only just. Twilight locked her gaze on the Princess’s kind eyes. Only when she saw no hint of anger or disappointment did she managed to calm her shaking. 

“The difference here, Twilight, is that you are simply not ready to use my alicorn spells in a combat situation. Since we have a limited amount of time to get you ready, I am going to be teaching you more contemporary unicorn battle magic, and working in alicorn powers when I can. I will also be focusing quite a bit on a rather accelerated program of combat basics. One can know all the spells in the world, but in a battle it’s useless when you don’t understand the timing, the rhythm of battle.”

Twilight put her ears back on her head and looked down at her hooves. “So I’m not going to get to learn your spells.”

The Princess shook her head. “Not yet, I am afraid. However, I am not opposed to teaching you them when the time comes. Be patient.” Luna paused a moment, her body going temporarily rigid. “Ye Gods does it sound awkward for me to be saying that to somepony.”

“You know,” her voice cracked, desperately trying to stay steady in an attempt to save face. “I once lifted an Ursa Minor. Sent it back home.”

That only earned a smirk. “I heard. I also heard that it took every ounce of your might to pull it off.”

“Well, yeah.” She scratched the back of her neck with a hoof. “I mean, it was an Ursa.”

“Ursas are dangerous and nigh-indestructible, yes, but they’re also… What was that delightful phrase Applejack once used? Ah yes, ‘dumber than a sack of hammers.’ But, for the sake of argument, let’s say you were using that much magic in a spell while in combat.” Luna leaned down, putting her muzzle right in front of Twilight’s. “How tempting a target do you think you would be while standing there defenseless, casting away? What if an enemy soldier rushed you, and tried to run a spear through your skull? What if he merely bopped your horn? What would happen?”

She bit her lip. “Well, I’d either be killed, or the spell would fail and, probably, explode.”

Luna kept looking at her.

“Explode, right on the tip of my horn,” she finished.


Luna raised her neck and Twilight exhaled, grateful for the personal space back.

“In truth, an inexperienced unicorn can only expect a small portion of their might to be available for spells in a battle. This can be increased with experience, but one needs to be able to cast while moving and fighting. Most soldiers are smarter than ursas. They will go after you and look for openings, especially if you’re fully absorbed in casting a spell.”

“I suppose that makes sense.”

“To wit, I have been discussing the matter with your brother, and we have come up with a training plan that should work for our purposes.”

Uh-oh. Twilight had teased him about his drills in the past. Not maliciously, really, but she had still done it. When he was getting in shape to join the military academy, she had made it a point to bring a cold drink and slurp it while reading near him. A part of it was simply wanting to be with her brother before he left, but the fact remained, she still teased him about it a bit. There could be no doubt in her mind. This was going to be excruciating.

“The good news is that even when only looking at you as a unicorn apprentice, you are still quite strong. The bad news is, spells alone will not be enough, though spells you will learn.”

Yeah, I’m in for it now.

“In fact, I’ve invited—”

Luna’s words were cut off by the sound of a door opening down the hall, followed by a mare with her nose in the air, leading a whole herd of foals. Twilight quickly sat up before they could get close enough to catch her lying down.  

“Come quickly, children. Keep up.”

The foals didn’t listen to her teacher at all. The moment they spotted Princess Luna, the ones in the front stopped walking and dropped into a deep bow. The rest of the group quickly followed suit once they could see her, too.

“I said, keep u—” The mare leading them finally opened her eyes and saw what the foals were doing, then snapped back to look in front of her with a sickly, terrified look on her face. Sure enough, a split second later, she was on the ground, too.

“A thousand pardons, your majesty. I didn’t see you there.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “Of course not. Your eyes were closed. I’ve never understood that, really.” She turned to Twilight. “When did it become in vogue to walk around and bump into things because one is too self-important to watch where they are going? It’s a wonder we don’t lose dozens from tripping off the edge of the city.”

“Well, don’t look at me!” Twilight laughed. “I walk around bumping into things because my head’s buried in a book.”

“Ha ha! Fair enough. Everypony, you may rise. I apologize for making you bow for so long. Tell me, does this mean my sister has seen fit to restart the school tours of the castle?”

“Er, yes, Your Majesty,” the mare who appeared to be the foals’ teacher replied. “We’re from PS 47 in Manehatten.”

“Manehatten?” Twilight tilted her head. “Your accent is definitely a Canterlot one.”

“I grew up here, yes, but moved a few years ago when my husband was transferred. As Her Majesty said, we’re doing field trips for the classes to see the castle.”

“Well then!” Luna stood up and walked up to the foals, and to the side of the teacher. “Hello, everypony! My name is Princess Luna. Welcome to my home. Before you ask, yes, I am an alicorn. Yes, I was banished to the moon at one point. No, it was not pleasant, and yes, I am thousands of years old.”

Twilight chuckled a little. Clearly, the Princess had done this a million times before.

“And the pony next to me is Twilight Sparkle. She is my sister’s personal student and the next candidate to be Grand Mage. Would anypony like to ask her a question?”

She, however, had not.

A half-dozen hooves went up into the air.

Oh, Tartarus. 

“Yes, you in the back!” Luna said, pointing to a unicorn colt.

Princess, why are you doing this to me?

“What’s a Grand Mage?” the foal asked.

Twilight swallowed. It was a simple, but excellent question. She’d yet to really condense the public version of her new title down to a short answer, and telling them that she was an alicorn ascendant was right out.

“Well, that’s a good question,” she stammered. “In a manner of speaking, I’m a sort of agent or proxy for the Princesses. But I suppose that’s a little obtuse, heh heh.” Hurry up and think of something they can understand!

Luna giggled. “It’s like this, children.”

Oh thank you Luna!

“When a pony has proven themselves worthy in heart, mind, and soul, we make them what we call a ‘Grand Mage.’ A Grand Mage has most of the legal power of the crown, except for two important things: they do not get a vote in the Council, and they may not declare war. Although incidentally, if she were to declare war on cauliflower, I’d be behind her one hundred percent.”

Twilight stared at her flatly while the foals all laughed.

“What?” The Princess raised a hoof to her chest. “I hate cauliflower. It is a vegetable most foul, with a bland taste and a texture that only wishes it could be broccoli!”

“I’m not declaring war on a vegetable, Luna. For one, I like cauliflower!”

“Foo. I’ve been waiting for a tie-breaking vote on that with Tia for millennia.”

Twilight sighed and walked up to speak to the chuckling foals more directly. “More or less, kids, a Grand Mage is somepony the Princesses can turn to when very nasty problems pop up. Starswirl was a trusted advisor on matters of the highest forms of magic. Crimson served Celestia in the Lunar Rebellions as a fierce warrior—”

Pfft. Fierce.” Luna rolled her eyes. “I was there, and I’ve had cats more fierce than he.”

The foals giggled more. I thought Princess Celestia was supposed to be the maternal one!

“And Stellar Horizon was a skilled negotiator and diplomat. I’m not sure what the Princesses have in mind for me yet, but I’m eager to help in any way I can. Next question?” A bunch of them put up their hooves, and Luna pointed to one near the wall. “Yes, you?” 

The little foal lowered her hoof. “We saw a big stack of papers in the throne room. Are you going to have to help them with their paperwork?”

“Well…” Twilight trailed off. She hadn’t actually considered that. Would she have to do that?

Luna cut in. “Only if she’s been bad. Then we’ll make her do paperwork!”

Even the teacher giggled at that one. Somepony shoot me.

“Okay, everypony, I think we’ve bothered their highnesses enough. Let’s move along, we have more to see!”

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief as the foals all started to follow their teacher out the other end of the hall. One foal, however, was still sitting, looking up at the ceiling with his wings twitching slightly. Huh. Odd. If I recall right, the other foals were all unicorns and earth ponies.

“Come along, Sky Painter!” The colt got up and started to walk. “Don’t stare like that around the Princesses! It’s rude!”

“Halt!” Luna yelled, making Twilight jump back a little. The tone wasn’t pleasant like the one a mere moment before. This was sharp, commanding. Almost angry, and certainly enough to get not only the colt but the entire tour group to stop dead in their tracks.

The diarch’s eyes opened and she glared at the teacher. “You walk with your nose in the air. Yet, when you see your young pegasus charge looking up, you fail to even check what he is looking at. Pitiful.”

Wait. I didn’t check what he was looking at, either.

Twilight, the teacher, and all the foals all turned their heads skywards, and gasped.

Painted on the ceiling was a winding mural, covering the surface all the way to both ends of the hall. There were small ponies everywhere, painted with exquisite detail for images so tiny. On the left was Cloudsdale in sunny daylight, with a blue sky, puffy white clouds, and rainbow falls showering down. On the right was Canterlot, steeped in night yet awash with the moon’s light casting shadows from the towers.

How did I miss this!?

Luna motioned with a hoof towards the mural. “It is a most curious thing, but true all the same. Simply put, few earth ponies and unicorns ever bother to look up. They miss so much that pegasi—and alicorns—see, notice, and appreciate.” She moved her hoof around in a little swirl-like pattern as she spoke, then stepped up to the colt.

Twilight gulped.

“You should not scold him for finding something that you could not will yourself to notice. Something that, I hope, you will include in your tour in the future.”

The teacher bowed so deep she was practically laying flat on the floor. “Of course, your highness. Please, forgive me.”

“It is done,” the Princess assured in a flat, matter-of-fact tone, just before the little foal tapped her on the knee. “Yes? Didst thou have a question?”

“Um,” the colt squeaked. “Miss Luna, did you paint that?”

The teacher jumped in. “I’m so, so sorry, your highness. He doesn’t know how rude he’s being. I’ll—”

The Princess’s hoof shot up faster than Twilight’s eye could see, stopping itself right in front of the teacher’s instantly hushed lips. “Stifle.” It was a single word in a simple command, but it was spoken with such force and authority it felt as though the world itself would obey. The teacher silenced, the Princess lowered her head all the way down to the colt’s eye level. “Be not afraid, young one. I shall not hurt thee. You are safe, and I am not mad at you. But, before I answer your question, I must ask you one of my own. Why do you think I was the one to paint this mural?”

The little colt scooted away a bit, his head down and his back arched in fear. “Um, well, it’s just when you waved your hoof around, there’s a little swirl just like it in the painting. Also, there’s a big pony with your color on that one cloud in Cloudsdale, sleeping in the day. So I kinda thought it was supposed to be you, but as a pegasus.”

A few more seconds passed while Luna just stared at him, then finally, she smiled and lifted her head, and the tension just evaporated.

“Well, Sky Painter, I must say, you are very observant. And yes, I did indeed paint this mural! I am also quite impressed that you could see such detail! I was able to add many touches during the slow nights of my Court, and it warms my heart to know that somepony appreciates it as you do. If you are ever in Canterlot again, find one of my Night Guard. If I am available, I would love to give you a tour myself. I promise, my stories of these hallowed halls are far more interesting than what your teacher is telling you.”

“Yes, ma’am!” The colt rebounded almost right away at the praise, smiling and practically bouncing up to his hooves.

“Wonderful! I look forward to it! Now, go along with your teacher. I’ve kept you long enough.” Luna scooted him along a bit with a hoof, and he galloped off towards the group that shortly left the hall and went out of earshot.

“Let me guess,” Twilight started with a grin. “You’ve had foals too?”

Luna snorted. “Heavens no. I couldn’t stand it. I mean, first there’s foalbirth in and of itself, but then, diapers? The crying? No, no no no no. I could never. Tia was always the nurturing one. I’ve just picked up a few things along the way, that’s all.”

Twilight blinked. “Huh. Were you ever married?”

“No again, Twilight Sparkle. It is not in my nature, I’m afraid. I am not a loyal lover. I do not take on a mate for a long period of time. I find somepony I like, I couple, and I move on.”

The ascendant shuddered. “When you say couple, you mean—”

“Intercourse, yes. And yes, I still do it. And no, I won’t tell you who. Even Tia doesn’t know. Well, at least I don’t think she does. I do make quite an effort to be discrete. Open relations with a Princess tends to bring it’s own set of troubles, and if I like a pony enough to be intimate with them, I like them enough to not wish such things on them.”

“I can imagine.” Twilight brought her hooves to her head as a very explicit image popped into her mind. “Unfortunately.”

Luna latched onto that immediately. “Oh my! Having naughty thoughts about thy princess, are we?”

“Gah! No! Well, yes, but not intentionally!”

The Princess just laughed. “Oh, Tia is right! You are easily flustered! Be at ease, Twilight! If it was a crime to have lewd thoughts about a princess, I’d imagine at least a third of Equestria would be behind bars! Perhaps nine-tenths if you count Cadence.”

An equally unfortunate image of Cadence ran through Twilight’s mind as she groaned, giving up. “I suppose you’re right.”

“I know I am, but I shall spare you further thoughts. Come, I have a lesson to teach, and you,” she poked a hoof in Twilight’s chest, “have much to learn.”