Rites of Ascension

by CvBrony

A Bright Light in a Dark Place, Part 2/3

“I am so bucked.”

Luna, once again looking more like her public self and less like the Nightmare, rolled her eyes. “Would you calm down? Most mares would be happy their stallion found a new job so quickly.”

Obsidian shuddered. “You don’t have a princess for a wife. Money isn’t a problem for her. The problem is I didn’t talk to her about this!”

The Princess placed a hoof on the door to a gathering room where the Council usually met during recesses. “You’re worrying over nothing. She loves you and fights for you. She wants you to be happy, first and foremost. Now come, we’re wasting time.”

“Wait!” Shining pulled the door shut with his magic and whispered, “You realize I haven’t actually said the Night Guard oath yet either, right?”

Luna smiled. “They need not know that,” she whispered back. “Besides, that comes after your integration, not before. Now, ready yourself.”

With a light push, the door opened, and the two stepped in.

Murmurs and talking echoing in the room slowly ceased as they made their way to its middle. Eventually, the only sound was their hoofsteps muffled by the blue and white carpet leading them to the ponies in the center of it all: Duke Charlemane and Princess Cadence. The rest was pure silence.

The Duke put down his glass and raised an eyebrow. “Your Highness? Unusual to see you in here. To what do we owe the pleasure?”

Luna cleared her throat. “It is quite simple. I am here to demand that you cease all further disciplinary actions against Shining Armor.”

The murmurs resumed, this time in high gear.

Charlemane stepped forward. “Excuse me? You demand? Your Highness, you have no such authority over this Council.”

Luna’s nostrils flared. “And you have no such authority over—”

“Shiny?” Cadence interrupted, her eyes instantly growing moist. “Shiny, is that you?”

Obsidian opened his mouth, letting his new, deeper voice reverberate through the room despite its dryness. “Yes, beloved. It’s me, your Armor,” he said, twisting the pronunciation of his name to sound more like ‘Amore.'

“Shining!” She all but plowed into him in her embrace, running her hooves over the small amount of his coat that was exposed before continuing to the glossy, black-and-silver armor. “Shining! What happened to you?!”

“Luna offered me a job,” he chuckled weakly, and the murmurs in the room all but exploded. He paid them no heed.

She pulled him in tight. “Shiny, why didn’t you tell me?”

“We sort of wanted to get it done before the Council caught wind.”

“Indeed, you would,” Charlemane interrupted. “Yet this is not an acceptable outcome. Princess, Prince Armor, this Council cannot tolerate efforts to circumvent its authority. We have a job to do.”

“Ha! Job!?” Luna roared. “You mean that perversion of justice I bore witness to? You dare to accuse a Prince, one of your own, to conspire against the Eternal Sisters?”

Charlemane waved a dismissive hoof. “One of our most decorated generals betrayed us in the attack, Princess. Surely, you do not mean to suggest he did not have help from the inside?”

Luna’s wings flared. “And just how many of them were using weapons made by your companies!? I find it every bit as likely that one of you could have helped him!”

The Duke’s face suddenly became rather smug, enough that it caused the tips of Obsidian’s new, smoldering mane to flare in place of bristling.

“We have extensive evidence that select elements of the regular military and even some Guard members aided Towers in his assault. Do you have evidence that one of our members acted in bad faith?”

Luna ground her teeth and lowered her head to the other pony’s level. “I should think my status would be enough.”

Obsidian grunted and was taken aback by how low and loud his voice was. Not good, not good at all. Walk it back, Luna. I know we’re frustrated, but he’s going to win at this rate.

Charlemane shook his head and smirked. “Your status is a generous gift by this Council, Highness, or did you forget your own attempted coup?”

No! Obsidian jolted forward and out of the grip of his wife then lifted his foreleg to hold his Sovereign back. As he stood between them, ice ran down his spine. Luna looked offended already, and Cadence’s jaw was open not only because she had to suddenly balance herself but because he had let her go.

Damn! “Sovereign, beloved, I ask both of you for your forgiveness for my outburst. But I cannot allow this conversation to continue as it is. If I may, I wish to speak on Luna’s behalf.”

“You?” Charlemane asked. “You do realize that by donning that armor, you have all but forfeited your crown?”

His gaze swung around and locked onto Charlemane’s eyes as he tried to burn a hole in the Chairpony’s head with just his glare. “You are incorrect,” he said with an even deeper voice than before. “My crown is not at risk. According to the compact between the Council and Celestia that restored Luna’s crown, her Night Guard can only be disciplined by Luna herself. This applies for all failures and infractions, past and present. Further disciplinary action taken by this Council against me would be in violation of that, which would result in Princess Celestia dissolving the compact and impeaching every one of your sorry hides for acting in ‘Bad Faith.’”

Charlemane didn’t flinch. “Ponies are looking for punishment for the failure to protect them, Captain.”

“It’s High Cardinal now,” he corrected to even more background discussion. Even Charlemane was taken aback. Looks like they don’t like that. Good.

“So she gave you wholesale command.” He chuckled. “Amusing. Doesn’t change the fact that ponies will be very upset at this. They wanted consequences, not a title change.”

“Interesting. This Council has spent years campaigning against Luna’s restoration and influence and shaping public opinion to this fact. Yet you contend this new position will be viewed as anything but a punishment?”

“Hmph. You forget, Cardinal. The positions granting control of the forces protecting our Princesses are ones of prestige. Disgraced—”

“Save it, Chairpony,” he said, voice booming. “You and I both know such a position elevates Luna’s position and weakens your own, not to mention makes the Council look like liars and hypocrites.” Now that got his attention.

“Regardless, Shin—”

“Obsidian. High Cardinal Obsidian Armor.” Obsidian grinned and showed off his new fangs. “Get it right, Chairpony Charlemane.”

The Chairpony furrowed his brow. “High Cardinal Obsidian Armor, this still leaves you open to political assault. Favoritism and softness in the face of failure? Such nepotism also leaves your sister politically vulnerable, inviting questions about her authority and legitimacy.”

He took a step forward, slamming his hoof down. “You will leave her alone, Chairpony. I know you’re trying to speak for the Council as a whole here rather than yourself, but I don’t care. You will leave her alone, period!

Charlemane met his gaze evenly. “Or you’ll what?”

No, hold back. I can’t threaten him outright. But what can I do? He twitched a bit at a cold hoof being placed on an exposed part of his coat. He flinched slightly, looking at his wife touching and examining him at random spots. What is she— Wait, that’s it!

“Chairpony, you seem to misunderstand your position. If you attempt to wage a political war against me or Twilight, you expose yourself to counterattack from Cadence.”

The other stallion flopped down to his haunches in laughter. “Ha! Surely, you jest—”

“I am entirely serious. Her full, official title is ‘Princess of the Lost,’ and she lives up to it brilliantly. Hence, she is also immensely popular, the perfect pony to represent a mere student of magic new to political power, who is under assault from forces out to get her from her first days and through no fault of her own. Or perhaps a Captain, discharged despite his best efforts to serve his Princess, now relegated to command of a mere few dozen ponies and being hounded by politicians on a crusade? You see, Chairpony. The optics and spin can work both ways.”

Charlemane waved this off. “Pathetic, Cardinal. Taking such a position weakens your sister’s standing and reduces her authority to an innocent pawn, not a commander in her own right. There is no way this ends well for you, or her.”

Damn. Obsidian furrowed his brow, glaring daggers at his opponent. This is not good. He caught me. Think, Armor, think! You can’t just let him get away with this! There has to be a way to turn this around and protect Twily. Just do what Celestia taught you. Rethink this from the beginning.

He took in a deep, but subtle, breath and focused. Time itself seemed to slow down for him as his mind went into high gear.

First, we know that he can’t go after me or Princess Luna very well right now. I’m protected by her compact, and there’s little he can do to further tarnish Luna’s reputation. It can only go so low, and the few that remain on her side are die-hards. So, why is he talking about going after Twilight to get to me?

…The Council is afraid of Twilight! But why? I know Charlemane is already aware of Twily’s ascension. We had to tell him in order to convince him to go along with helping Twilight become Grand Mage and get the Council deals in place for it. The others should all be in the dark, though, and the Princess gave up a lot of ground in those deals, even considering the massive penalties for the Council if they renege. But he’s known about it for years. That can’t be what he’s afraid of all of a sudden.

Think! What’s different now? Even as Grand Mage, Twilight’s authority in the Council is basically zip. Sure, she’s been trained by Luna, but that’s only three months’ worth, and before that—!

…They aren’t afraid of her because she’s been trained by Luna. They’re afraid of her because she’s been trained by Celestia! But Twily being the Princess’s student isn’t news. It’s been that way all along, including when those deals were signed. So what’s different? What changed when I came through those doo—!?

His eyes snapped all the way open and his jaw dropped open before he could stop it. The whole room could see him sitting there, stunned and eyes wide.

“I see you’ve finally realized it,” Charlemane said with a smug look. “This was a bad move for you, Armor. I honestly can’t believe you willingly stumbled into it.”

The corners of Obsidian’s mouth creased into a grin then grew into an devious Cheshire smile. “Oh, I realized it alright, Chairpony. I realized that I don’t need to worry about Twily. Your threats against her were a distraction.”

The Chairpony raised an eyebrow. “Hardly. She’s in a very vulnerable position right now.”

Obsidian leaned in next to his ear and in his lowest voice rumbled, “Then why are you so afraid of her?”

There were a few gasps in the audience to confirm his theory.

“Excuse me?” Charlemane jerked back and laughed. “Why would we be—?”

“Because she’s smarter than you,” Obsidian interrupted. “And she’s going to have all the tools she needs to be your undoing the instant any of you step out of line again. This isn’t about me becoming High Cardinal. It’s about Luna sneaking Twilight into the Chambers when you went after me in an over-elaborate changeling-hunt. She saw it first-hoof. She had to watch as you passed a vote of no confidence against me and forced her mentor to strip me of my rank, all so you could quietly shut me up and get me out of your mane. What’s the matter? Afraid my anti-corruption investigations will find something damning?”

Charlemane stomped his hoof. “That’s over the line, Card—”

“And now!” Shining yelled over the Chairpony. “Now every single one of you knows that you have a hyper-intelligent Grand Mage out for revenge for her brother. Or, as she’s called me since she was little, ‘Big Brother Best Friend Forever.’ You’re desperate to hobble her, but you know that if you revoke her title without far more ample cause than you used against me, you’ll lose everything.”

He got up with a chuckle and started trotting around him in a rant. “So instead, you’re trying to say you’re going after her for revenge on me? Weak, Charlemane,” he taunted, his grin growing ever wider. “She’ll turn that around so fast your head will spin. She’s going to destroy you all on her own, and you know it. That’s why you’re threatening her. Well, guess what, Chairpony. This is the mare that purged Nightmare Moon, juggled an Ursa Minor, took her friends to face off against a dragon, exposed Chrysalis, crushed General Towers’ coup, and put Discord back in his prison.”

He stopped behind him and put his mouth right next to Charlemane’s ear, but spoke loud enough so the whole room could hear him. “And you think you’re going to be able to stop her?” He laughed, letting his new bass voice vibrate the air before sneering and stepping forward, putting his head right next to the Duke’s. “If you thought Luna training her was bad news, you haven’t seen anything yet. I’ve spent more than sixteen years fighting this Council, and now I’m going to be whispering advice in Twilight’s ear for her entire career. Tactics, magic, politics… I’m at her complete disposal, and I’m willing to tell her absolutely anything she wants to know. She’s the smartest pony alive, Chairpony, and to borrow from a Gryphon expression, you just put a big, red bull’s-eye on your flank and declared it open season. Good. Luck.”

He turned around with a snap, and started striding out of the room. “You’re going to need it.”

The absolute, deafening silence of the room behind him brought a smile to his face, even as he heard Cadence’s and Luna’s hoofsteps behind him.

When the trio was finally around the corner and out of earshot, Luna positively giggled in delight. “Oh, that felt so good! I am going to enjoy having a High Cardinal again!”

“I wouldn’t celebrate just yet, Sovereign,” he warned. “Charlemane won’t take that lightly.”

“Let him take it however he pleases! I may not have any say with them, but that’s also true in reverse! I, or rather, we, are beholden to nopony in there.”

“Mmhmm,” Cadence mumbled, never looking away from her husband, yet not making eye contact with him either.

“Cady, are you alright?” Obsidian asked, stopping and turning to her. “I appreciate the fact that you aren’t beating me into a bloodstain on the floor, but you’re starting to scare me a little.”

“What?” She looked up at him and blinked. “Yes, I’m… I’m fine.”

Luna cut into the conversation. “You most certainly are not. What’s gotten into you?”

“Hmmm,” she murmured.

“Cady?” Obsidian’s voice went higher, almost back to normal.

“What?” Cadence looked up. “Oh, right. Auntie, I’m afraid he can’t join your Night Guard just yet.”

Obsidian raised an eyebrow while his wife started pulling on his foreleg, seemingly trying to get him to move.

“And why is that?” Luna asked with a smirk.

Cadence pulled him even harder, making him walk. “He needs to do… things. To me.”

Luna started to laugh and, just before they rounded a corner, called out, “Just so you know, the glamour spell stays even if you take off the armor! I bet it’ll be a bit more comfortable!”

“Not on your life!” she called back.